HALF TIME: Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Manchester City
The whistle goes. De Bruyne and Jesus argue with the referee about the disallowed goal, before trooping off with faces on. It’s been all City in terms of possession … but Spurs are halfway to a classic Mourinho rope-a-dope. As things stand, Spurs are going top, and City are dropping more points in an uncharacteristically slow start to the season. A big second half coming up for both teams in the context of this season’s Premier League, for very different reasons.
45 min: De Bruyne, perhaps getting a little frustrated at City’s inability to open Spurs up, takes a shot from distance. It pings off Hojbjerg and out for a corner. De Bruyne takes, and it’s easy meat for Lloris, who claims and sends Bergwijn scampering off down the left. Walker comes across to run the ball out for a throw, as he had to. Bergwijn would otherwise have been one on one with Ederson.
44 min: Sissoko is booked for delaying the restart after a Spurs foul, a few minutes go.
43 min: Walker sashays down the right and nearly opens Spurs up. But some determined work by Hojbjerg puts a stop to his gallop.
41 min: Cancelo busies himself down the inside-left channel again. He enters the box and lets Torres take over. A tangle of bodies, but no fouls. The ball breaks to Jesus, who whips over the bar from a tight angle, ten yards out.
39 min: Lloris takes his sweet time over a goal kick. The Mourinho masterclass continues. City betray their agitation.
37 min: Spurs hold their shape. City can’t work any space. It’s more intriguing than exciting right now.
35 min: Laporte comes through the back of Kane. Again, another referee on another day would have flashed a yellow card for that one, but it’s just a free kick. City are showing a few signs of frustration, despite playing pretty well, regardless of the score.
34 min: Now it’s Tottenham’s turn to look fairly comfortable for a couple of minutes. Mourinho will be beyond pleased with how this match has panned out for him so far.
32 min: Kane spins away from two City shirts in the centre circle. He’s planning to launch a counter, but Silva sticks out an arm, then a boot, to stop him in his tracks. A clever if sneaky foul that could have got Silva booked on another day, but the referee’s not of a mind to make too much of it.
31 min: Cancelo powers his way down the inside-left channel and into the Spurs box. Aurier does extremely well to stay shoulder to shoulder and eventually overcome his opponent.
NO GOAL! Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Manchester City
Referee Mike Dean goes over to the VAR screen, spots the ball brushing the arm of Jesus, and changes his decision. Rodri is incensed and hops about in theatrical fashion with his head in his hands, but the ref waves his protest away.
GOAL! Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester City (Laporte 27)
Mahrez crosses deep from the right. Jesus jumps to chest down on the left-hand corner of the six-yard box. He shoots. Blocked. The ball breaks back to Laporte, who sidefoots powerfully into the bottom left. Brilliant finish … but did the ball hit Jesus on the arm when he took it down? Here comes VAR.
25 min: Spurs snaffle possession and counter again. It’s four on three! Kane slips the ball wide for Hojbjerg on the left. Hojbjerg pulls back for Bergwijn, free just inside the box. He dithers, though, allowing Rodri to come from behind and poke away. Bergwijn falls, and wants a penalty, but the referee is quite rightly not interested.
23 min: They’ve just shown a replay of the Spurs goal. Kane’s role in it was subtle and quite brilliant. As Ndombele prepared to play the defence-splitting pass, Kane dropped deep, taking both Laporte and Dias with him. Bingo: space for Son to race into. He’s an incredibly intelligent footballer.
21 min: City are certainly dominating. They’re pushing Spurs right back. They win a succession of corners: one, two, three. Aurier battles Torres on the edge of the six-yard box, just about winning the duel. City are knocking at the door.
19 min: City have enjoyed 67% possession so far, and taken five attempts at goal. Spurs have had just the one. But look at the score.
17 min: De Bruyne dazzles his way down the right and whips towards the near post. Dier is forced to stick out a leg and deflect away for a corner. The set piece is mainly notable for Bergwijn getting as close to the taker Mahrez as the law allows. Mahrez shouts in frustration as Bergwijn grabs a cheeky extra yard or two. The corner is subsequently wasted.
15 min: Free kick for City out on the right. De Bruyne lifts it in. Rodri powers a header straight at Lloris. Either side of the keeper and that could have caused the keeper serious problems.
13 min: Spurs have the ball in City’s net again. Bergwijn works the ball wide to Son, who rolls across the face of the City goal for Kane to tap in. But Kane is well offside, and he clearly knew it, apologetically poking home. The flag goes up.
12 min: Torres bustles down the left and into the Spurs box, then falls to the floor when Sissoko comes over to usher him away from goal. The referee isn’t interested in awarding a penalty, and rightly so.
11 min: Spurs continue to sit back and let City do their worst. Again they eventually break up play, and Bergwijn romps down the left on the counter. His low cross looks for Son, but the striker can’t control and the move breaks down. City were wide open there, though.
9 min: Jesus dribbles into the Spurs box from the left at great speed. His twinkle toes prepare to shoot on the six-yard line. Alderweireld sticks out a brave leg to block. What a challenge! That’s saved a goal … although the ball balloons to De Bruyne, who has another dig. That one smacks into the prone Jesus, and out for a goal kick. It’s fair to say this has been an eventful start.
7 min: City look to respond immediately. Cancelo and De Bruyne probe down the left. Mahrez has a look down the right. Then De Bruyne comes over and nearly powers his way past Reguilon, but is penalised for barging into the back of the Spurs left-back.
GOAL! Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Manchester City (Son 5)
This is absurdly easy. Ndombele has the ball in the centre circle. He rolls a pass down the middle to find Son in acres of space. Ederson has come to the edge of his box, making Son’s mind up for him. Son slides it under the keeper, and once again he’s scored at home against City. What a start!
4 min: Some room for Silva just inside the Spurs box on the left. Alderweireld blocks. Spurs counter through Son and Kane, the latter sweeping the ball left for Reguilon, who decides to take on Walker in a foot race. Bad choice. Walker wins that one.
3 min: Spurs seem happy to sit back and let City have the ball. The visitors stroke it around at the back. Everyone gets a touch.
2 min: An early touch for the in-form Torres, who zips past Son on the left, drifts inside, and whistles a rising shot straight at Lloris. An exciting run.
Spurs get the ball rolling … but only after the players take a knee of love and solidarity. There’s no room for racism. Black lives matter.
Before kick-off, a moment of applause in memory of the great Ray Clemence, who spent seven years in the Tottenham goal during the 1980s.
The teams are on the pitch. Spurs in their lilywhite, City in second-choice black. We’ll be off in a couple of minutes. “Of course real football fans only care about the players on the pitch, all this Jose v Pep drama is media-generated melodrama. Who’s kidding who? This is the best kind of water cooler gossip and we all love it so!” Mary Waltz can speak for me. Meanwhile Tony Barr wonders if Pep has fallen for a classic Mourinho double bluff. “Surely, master of mind games that he is, Jose stated that Sterling would start knowing this would force Pep to bench him, thus weakening City’s attack? Or did you already get to that? I’m finding it hard to keep track.” He’s got you exactly where he wants you.
Pep isn’t in the mood to take any nonsense, and there’s an edge to his pre-match interview. “Sterling trained one day in the last week, but he has special physicality. It’s not perfect-perfect. It is important Aguero is back. All clubs need their players, and Sergio … what can I say as a striker? He is amazing. [Cracks huge face-covering grin] Team is perfect, so good! We score 100 in the last two seasons. Team is so good, we are going to try to do it again! Go out there, let them play, and try to do their best.” He sounds really up for this one. A fair bit of needle in the air tonight. Rise above it if you like, but there’s good old-fashioned fun to be had scrabbling around down here.
Jose talks to Sky with that twinkle in his eye. “Progress is a process. An isolated match doesn’t tell us much. But of course this is an important match against a team for the last ten years is always champion or trying to be champion. So it is going to be very difficult. We are not as ready as Sterling because he was resting the whole week, but we are fine. We are ready for the game. Bale was with his international team, playing 90 minutes plus 75, which at this moment for him in his evolution is quite a lot. Bergwijn was with us recovering and training. We have a lot of matches to play.” A couple of early salvoes there. The jibe about Sterling keeps that particular plate spinning, but there’s also the passive-aggressive reference to City being a championship-chasing team for the last decade, i.e. long before Pep. You know exactly which buttons he’s attempting to press here. A maestro of the form.
Pre-match yada-yada. “What do you think the chances are that Pep isn’t starting Sterling just so he can stick it to Jose who insisted that he ‘knew’ Sterling would start?” asks a man who is clearly going to answer his own question. JR in Illinois replies: “I would put my guess at right around 100%.” JR would also like to illustrate his point via the medium of Seinfeld:
Tottenham make two changes to the XI named for the last-gasp victory at West Bromwich Albion. They’re without Matt Doherty, who has tested positive for coronavirus, while Gareth Bale drops to the bench. Serge Aurier and Steven Bergwijn take their places.
Manchester City also make two changes, from the side that drew 1-1 with Liverpool. Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva are in; Ilkay Gundogan and the much-discussed Raheem Sterling are benched. Sergio Aguero is back from injury and named as a sub, but Fernandinho is still out.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Aurier, Alderweireld, Dier, Reguilon, Sissoko, Hojbjerg, Bergwijn, Ndombele, Son, Kane.
Subs: Bale, Hart, Rodon, Lo Celso, Lucas Moura, Davies, Vinicius.
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Torres.
Subs: Stones, Sterling, Gundogan, Aguero, Steffen, Foden, Garcia.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
One of the best things about the 2020-21 Great League of Unpredictability is the sheer amount of summit meetings it’s throwing up. Before the international break we had Manchester City versus Liverpool. Tomorrow evening Liverpool take on Leicester City; the day after that, Wolves play Saints. And right now we have Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester City, which on its own terms is a monster match, but is even more combustible when you throw in Jose and Pep. This one really is on!
Good luck calling it. Had they not shipped those three late dramatic goals against West Ham, Spurs would be on a five-match Premier League winning streak. As it is, they’ve taken 13 points from the last 15 and will go top with another win here today. They’ve beaten City on their last two visits to N17, 2-0 in the league back in February, 1-0 in the Champions League the previous April. The way Son Heung-min and Harry Kane are carrying on, a hat-trick of victories is far from beyond them.
City are showing signs of rising from their early-season slumber. They’ve won three of their last four matches in all competitions, and would have won the other had Kevin De Bruyne not shanked a penalty wide in very uncharacteristic style. The mood is high in the camp, with Guardiola signing a new deal to cast aside all the uncertainty, and Ferran Torres walking on air after scoring a hat-trick against Germany.
With Spurs hoping to record a statement victory, and City trying to get themselves right back in the thick of the title race, this is set up perfectly. An evening of rich entertainment stretches out ahead of us. It’s on!
Kick off: 5.30pm GMT.