There is a balance between entertainment and recklessness, and Tottenham Hotspur certainly teetered on the brink during this see-sawing contest with Manchester City. Yet, Pep Guardiola’s team were also guilty of sluggish play and therein lay the foibles that brought about this enthralling match.
Spurs arrested their three-game losing run and Ange Postecoglou continues to lighten up the Premier League with his high-wire act while City remain in third place, three points off the pace set by leaders Arsenal, having dropped points in a third successive game.
Postecoglou’s bold approach filled much of the pre-match columns and, at times, it was there slapping you in the face. Do Spurs have to be so open? Are they able to play out from the back with such free abandon? Well, whatever the answers, Postecoglou certainly stuck with his plan. There is rarely compromise on his part.
And as a consequence this was a match that kept you on the edge of your seat. Rarely do City-Spurs clashes fail to disappoint and this one provided from first minute to last; it was in keeping with a day of action-packed Premier League action.
Heung-min Son gave Spurs an early lead but his own-goal levelled the scores before Phil Foden sent City into the lead. Giovanni Lo Celso equalised but Jack Grealish came off the bench to give the hosts what felt like the winner only for Dejan Kulusevski to score in stoppage time.
It felt more like a victory for Spurs than City, who looked set to break late on through Grealish, only for referee Simon Hooper to blow his whistle for an earlier foul. It certainly had the home side up in arms.
Story of the game
The setting, a damp and cold December afternoon, was in stark contrast to the first — and only previous — meeting between Guardiola and Postecoglou. The 2019 pre-season friendly between Yokohama and City in Japan certainly brought the Australian onto Guardiola’s radar. In defeat, Postecoglou’s team out-possessioned Guardiola’s team, leading some to quip that City hung on for their 3-1 win.
Despite Spurs having lost their last three games and dropping out of the top four, Postecoglou stood by his approach ahead of this meeting and, even with a patched-up team missing ten first-team players, he doubled-down.
However, there were times during the first half when Spurs were a little too open and needed some more pragmatism. Whenever Spurs come to the Etihad Stadium, an entertaining game normally ensues — even under the more defensive Antonio Conte they were often humdingers — and Postecoglou’s first visit was always going to follow the trend.
After five minutes Guglielmo Vicario had to save from Jeremy Doku after Spurs had given the ball away when playing out from the back. But from the subsequent corner, the visitors countered to devastating effect.
Vicario punched the corner-kick out to Bryan Gil and the Spaniard passed to Kulusevski. His pinged ball forward found Son on the right flank and the Spurs captain got the better of Doku who was left in his wake. Son composed himself before drilling a shot through Ederson to give Spurs a seventh-minute lead.
That certainly lit the touch-paper and back came City almost immediately. It was a free-kick towards the right touchline that Julian Alvarez whipped into the penalty area. Erling Haaland’s glancing header touched Yves Bissouma and then went in off the helpless Son, who found himself on either side of the scoresheet within the first 10 minutes.
City looked the stronger from there. Tottenham again lost the ball when trying to play out and when Bernardo Silva squared to Haaland, who was yards out from a gaping goal, the ending seemed inevitable. Not so, however, as the Norwegian striker side-footed wide much to the astonishment of the home crowd.
Doku also fired against the woodwork after cutting in past Ben Davies, but the hosts had the lead by the 32nd minute. Spurs’s half-clearance was mopped up by City with Haaland tapping the ball out to Doku who returned it back into the penalty area to Alvarez. The Argentinian spun and teed-up Foden who took a touch before slotting home.
It threatened to get a little messy for Spurs as they were opened up again but Alvarez struck the far post and Postecoglou swapped Gil for the more steady Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg at the interval. Yet, that didn’t prevent a chance for City at the start of the second half when Vicario mis-placed a pass and had to redeem himself with a full-stretch save to deny Silva.
Guardiola was forced into a change of his own when Doku needed to come off after feeling discomfort and Grealish came on for the lively winger. Spurs did see more of the ball in the second half and were more comfortable, and the travelling supporters grew in volume as they saw their team with greater confidence. It would rise further after 69 minutes.
City had gone sluggish in the second half against Liverpool last weekend when they lost their 100 per cent home record for 2023, and it was happening again much to Guardiola’s frustrations.
Davies dived in front of Haaland to head the ball forward to Son and his pass to Lo Celso should have set alarm bells ringing for City defenders. But they stood off the Spurs midfielder as he drifted across the penalty area and allowed him to unleash a shot into the bottom corner that Ederson could not keep out.
Whether City used that as a wake-up call, the hosts did respond. Rodri clipped an effort into the side-netting after being found by substitute Rico Lewis. And Guardiola’s team retook the lead on 81 minutes.
Bissouma had done the hard work and wriggled away from City’s press but ran back into trouble and was dispossessed by Rodri. He passed to Haaland and his pullback was met by Grealish, who finished past Vicario.
Yet, Spurs do not go quietly under Postecoglou and the visitors came back in stoppage time. They kept up the pressure and when Brennan Johnson sent a cross into the penalty area, Kulusevski towered over Nathan Ake and headed the ball in off the crossbar. It shared the spoils in a game that delivered from first minute to last.