Opinion: Manchester City 4-1 Spurs - De Bruyne-led City hurtling towards title at breakneck speed

Opinion: Manchester City 4-1 Spurs - De Bruyne-led City hurtling towards title at breakneck speed

Kevin De Bruyne was world class as Manchester City brushed aside Tottenham Hotspur to win 4-1 and claim their 16th successive Premier League win on Saturday - their campaign set to reach a seemingly inevitable conclusion.

Charlie Malam

"Kevin De Bruyne is having an exceptional campaign. There is no arguing about that," began a piece on the Belgian in Manchester City's programme for their clash with Tottenham Hotspur.

The only argument that concerns De Bruyne now is whether he is the best player in the Premier League, and he gave more credence to the idea that his talents are unparalleled in England on Saturday. 

A supreme performance of confidence and creativity inspired City to their 16th straight league win, and another truly swashbuckling win too - Pep Guardiola's side a formidable force.

Many are reluctant to declare them title winners already, but this win moves them - at least until Manchester United face West Bromwich Albion on Sunday - 14 points clear at the summit and no-one looks capable of stopping them. Spurs certainly couldn't.

However United fare in the Midlands, City are 14 points ahead of reigning champions Chelsea, 19 beyond Arsenal and now a quite ridiculous 21 points ahead of Spurs, who started the season as title hopefuls. This is after just 18 games.

In a 38-game season, the best advantage any team has had come Christmas day was Chelsea's nine-point lead in 2005-06. This City side are highly likely to be at least 11 clear, with the visit of Bournemouth still to come before the festivities.

And who would bet against City at least going close to breaking the best end-of-season title-winning margin, too, which is rivals United's 18-point cushion back in 1999-00.

Only a severe bout of injuries, or an unlikely catastrophic loss of form, can derail them and deny them a first title in four years. 

This City side are so startlingly good that they have entered themselves into the debate for the best ever sides to grace the Premier League after just half a campaign, and deservedly so.

They must first win the league before the debate can really begin, and unless they do it unbeaten - Arsenal's Invincibles will still be considered a better side by many, no matter how many points they win it by.


City's unstoppable attack 

But it is the staggering speed with which they are hurtling towards the title, on course to break the record totals for most points and most goals scored, which explains the abundance of superlatives going their way.

This was another display of awesome attacking ability and De Bruyne was at the heart of it all; scoring one, helping set up another, winning a penalty - albeit one Gabriel Jesus missed- and generally controlling proceedings from his deeper-lying midfield role.

"I just can say thank you to all my players. Especially Kevin, for the fact he's one of the most talented players and you see how he runs without the ball," lauded City boss Pep Guardiola afterwards.

"It's a good example for the young players, for our academy. He helps us to be a better club and a better institution.

"His performance today, I have no words. I have no words to describe what he's done with the ball; how many assists, how many times he shifts play. All the time he has the game in his head."

The game he sees must be one several seconds ahead of the game playing out in reality, for De Bruyne was always sharper and quicker than his opponent, producing stunning defence-splitting passes with ease. 

Yet he was just one player to produce an excellent performance, with Leroy Sané unstoppable, Raheem Sterling profligate but persevering, Kyle Walker unperturbed, Ederson pin-point and İlkay Gündogan dominant. 

The latter's performance was sublime even despite his post-match admission that he had been ill. You'd genuinely never have realised.

Yes, City were lucky to not be reduced to 10 men after Nicolás Otamendi's high boot clattered Harry Kane's jaw in the first half, but Spurs were equally as fortunate to keep both Kane and Dele Alli on the pitch.

The pair both planted their studs on goalscorers Sterling and De Bruyne respectively, both challenges nasty enough to warrant red but seeing only yellow thanks to Craig Pawson's lenience, or just sheer inadequacy.

The referee got a handful of key decisions wrong, and ones that in hindsight can be argued would have altered the game's final outcome if made correctly.

But City were staggeringly superior; as they have been on so many an occasion this term, and Spurs were only ever nearing parity for the first 15 minutes of the second half. Otherwise they were convincingly second best.


De Bruyne centre stage 

Guardiola had warned that City needed the help of their supporters to lift them, because the players were so tired, and yet they showed no signs of fatigue.  

No-one displayed that better than De Bruyne. He has started all of City's 18 Premier League games, five of their six Champions League games and even played in one of their two Carabao Cup outings. 

The Citizens' No.17 might have had his ankle broken by Alli's petulant challenge, but it served only to further fuel his performance. Three minutes after that, he channelled his pent up anger - so clearly shown on his red-cheeked face - to lash a fierce strike through Hugo Lloris.

It was the 26-year-old who also won the penalty that Jesus put against the post on 75 minutes, albeit via intelligent and rather deceitful planting of his leg more so than Jan Vertonghen's mistiming.

To think, the first 14 minutes or so of the game - before the opening goal - were largely even. But after Gündoğan was left in such swathes of space to head in the opener at the near post from Sané's corner - the third time Spurs have conceded such a goal in their last four league games - the hosts swarmed and suffocated Spurs. There was only to be one winner. 

City left one of the top-flight's best defences - albeit minus Toby Alderweireld and summer signing Davinson Sánchez - absolutely trembling, Spurs continually playing rushed passes and making the wrong decisions in their panic.

Sané - back in the starting line-up after being rested for the win at Swansea City in mid-week - was electric up against Kieran Trippier down City's left, the England international regularly made to look amateurish despite being one of the best in the league in his position. 

Yet it was De Bruyne whose class shone so clearly. David Silva had stolen some of his headlines in recent weeks, with four goals in his last three games, but was absent here due to personal reasons.

Yet City never once looked like they missed the ingenuity of the in-form Spaniard, with De Bruyne's world-class playmaking abilities comprehensively running the show for the home side. 

Only City's unusual wastefulness prevented them from putting the game beyond Pochettino's men far earlier than they did. It was in the last 20 minutes that they truly started to run amok, adding a second, third and fourth on the 70th minute, the 80th and then the 90th.

In the first half, Sterling fired over, Sergio Agüero saw one shot saved by Lloris and another expertly blocked by Danny Rose, while Gündoğan forced a good save and Sané's heavy touch denied him a clear one-on-one with the French goalkeeper. It might have been 4-0 at the break.

Spurs showed mere flashes of their threat. Their final ball brought an abrupt and underwhelming end to a number of attacks - not least one in which Rose sent his cross out for a goal kick with Kane moving into a pocket of space over on the opposite corner of the area.


But the away side improved after the break. Having had just two touches in the City box in the first half, they attacked with greater purpose and belief after the restart. They were still "alive in the game" as Pochettino later put it.

Their final ball still let them down, Kane overhitting a pass to Ederson was required to make a fine reactive save to push Kane's curled attempt past the post, but they at least posed far greater threat.

But Kane's effort - on 56 minutes - was Spurs' first shot on target and just as their threat grew, the introduction of Jesus condemned them to inferiority again.

The Brazilian almost scored with his first involvement and Guardiola's decision to add a fresh and lively presence up top, as opposed to looking to defensive reinforcement, meant that City resumed their governance.

De Bruyne's strike, coming shortly after Alli should have been sent off, effectively put the game beyond Spurs and City ripped them to shreds from there on out.

Jesus missed his spot-kick, with Sterling blazing the rebound over the crossbar, but it was an inevitability that City would extend their advantage. 

Fitting then that it was Sterling, who had wasted some gilt-edged opportunities, to add the killer third and then the humiliating fourth. 

Unsurprisingly, De Bruyne was at the heart of the third - robbing Mousa Dembélé, arguably Spurs' best player, of possession and bursting forward to find Sané on the left. The winger drove into the box to square for Sterling for a tap-in.

And Sterling, in the best form of his career, added a 15th of the season across all competitions late on - Bernardo Silva's through ball causing Eric Dier issues and allowing him to run clear on goal, flick the ball through the legs of Lloris and almost apologetically roll in the fourth goal.


Guardiola delighted by City's self-belief

Spurs went on to add a consolation, to the almost sarcastic cheers of the half-empty away end, with Christian Eriksen stroking a low shot perfectly into the far bottom corner. But it did little to dampen another sensational 90 minutes for City.

They are the first side in 64 years to beat United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and now Spurs. They have scored 54 goals in 18 games - an average of three per game - and taken 52 of an available 54 points. They are making a mockery of the idea that the Premier League is the most tightly contested of any of Europe's top five leagues. 

"We trust each other," said an elated Guardiola. "That is the dream for the manager. Of course, winning titles is important but the most important thing is that we believe in the best way to play. 

"They have no doubts. That is the best gift, when you believe the players follow you."

And so obvious it is that these City players do believe in Guardiola. They have equalled the number of successive league wins that a Guardiola-led Barcelona managed between October 2010 and February 2011, an achievement that should not be understated.

Three more and City will equal Guardiola's best ever league winning run, Bayern Munich's run of 19 triumphs in a row set in March 2014. This, in a league supposedly far harder to win than La Liga or the Bundesliga.

Guardiola put it plainly to gathered press at his pre-match press conference that the manner of City's performances, rather than the statistics set and records broken, is what satisfies him most.

And so he could hardly be more satisfied here, given that their energetic and co-ordinated pressing forced one of the league's most composed defences into mistakes on multiple occasions. 

Spurs have not regularly been at their best this season, but they thrashed Liverpool and deservedly downed Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in Europe.

They have now won just one of 18 away games against their "big six" opponents under Pochettino, but that win came at City in February 2016 and they won four points from six against the Citizens last term. If anything, the North London outfit's high-octane high-pressing style made them as likely as any side to cause City problems. 

This was no walk-over for the hosts, and yet for large periods they made it look like one; their display belittling Spurs' quality across the pitch. City's attack created chance after chance after chance, their midfield consistently won their battles and their defence restricted to Kane and co. to few opportunities.

"The better team won," admitted Pochettino. "When you watch and assess the game, the way we conceded the first goal was a massive gift for City. That changes completely all that we prepared.

"Today they showed why they are the best, so far, in the Premier League. Different things happened during the game, second half we started well and were still alive in the game.

"The chance that Kane had, maybe if we score there, it changes. We dominated City in the first 20 minutes of the second half. But 2-0, it's difficult again.

"In the end, 4-1 is a result that's disappointing. You cannot say nothing positive, because that is the mentality in football. But for me, there is some positive to take from an unbelievable experience for the team.

"Today was a very good example to see a team that believe, that have the quality and strengths and is in good form. They deserve the victory, completely."

So too, do City completely deserve all of the plaudits to come their way from now until they surely lift the title in May.

This is a special, remarkable, football team - one capable of going the distance in Europe as well as in England. The frightening thing is that they can still get better.