City 2 Yids 2
Where do I even begin? I'm still in recovery. Might be suffering from a touch of post-dramatic stress.
Okay. I'm ready. Let's do this.
This match was a breathless encounter for all the wrong and right reasons. Points shared when we probably didn't deserve them in terms of possession and balance and yet might have stolen all of them had we perhaps prepared with a touch more caution. Manchester City, for all their dominance didn't exactly pummel us into submission. Both of their goals were very late Christmas gifts from Hugo Lloris (it's not a favourable away day outing for him). Our two replies, superbly crafted and a testament to our resolve and resilience. We might have severely under-performed but our character and guile is top drawer. City wasteful in abundance. Spurs clinical in cameo. Add some officiating controversy into the mix and the game was an emotionally draining score draw epic.
Mauricio Pochettino realised pretty quickly that our 343 formation against a rampant City was a mistake. They were rampant because of pride but also thankful for Pep Guardiola's astute tactics, applying carefully calculated peak pressure on our full-backs. Pegging them back into constant defensive mode meaning we had no escape down the flanks in an attacking capacity. A classic case of width suffocation. We had to cope with their football, forced to be reactive rather than pose questions of our own. It was almost a reverse to what we dished out to them at the Lane earlier in the season.
We changed shaped which wasn't too tricky a transition thanks to the fact we hardly had any to start with. We didn't help ourselves with some really casual passing of the ball around our own pen area. Not sure what happened in that first half but we can all agree that collectively, we looked a mess. Untidy and passive. It happens. It's going to look a lot worse than it is when you're up against a top team that are hungry for big result.
It was hardly the best timing considering Pep's team had been sort of humiliated 4-0 at Goodison Park last weekend and were no doubt on a mission of redemption. That's where the pride fuelled commitment came from. Interestingly, they conceded those four goals from four chances in that game. A subtle hint that as long as they don't finish you off, you've always got a chance. It's not something you'd have entertained in the early stages of this particular game. Even an out of sorts City team (or rather one attempting to forge a new identity with their fresh boss) are still capable of high-end dangerousness. You can base that insight on the quality of depth of their first team (let alone squad). They were on it. We weren't.
Kevin Wimmer looked extremely uncomfortable and was routinely out paced. He was then replaced by Son at half-time with Danny Rose deputising at the back. Poch was honest enough to seek the changes (subs included) to make amends for our perhaps overly ambitious selection. No mucking about from the gaffer. Three at the back will work against most of the Premier League, aside from a select elite (especially away from the Lane). There's a time and a place for it. Sometimes that in-game momentum isn't yours so it's suicidal to persevere with it. Made a mistake? Don't live with it, correct it.
Harry Winks was a pivotal sub late on, producing yet another mature, calm and composed anchor job in the middle. His passing was immaculate. Toby Alderweireld the one making way for him and hopefully a precaution rather than a potential lay-off (cup football up next so there's opportunity for recovery if he felt tightness in the hamstring with no actual damage done).
It's the stuff that happened in-between that first half readjustment and second half consolidation that was nigh drama of the highest order.
Lloris, a player that has won us so many points, was focused in this game when it came to instinctive dives to keep the ball out. When it came to sweeping, he failed to impress. We all know his weight of passing can be weak and his kicking erratic. He can usually be trusted to attack a ball if required (although these-days it's not a common responsibility). Running out to head the ball only to miss and watch Sane slot it away for the 1-0...was an anomaly. But to see him err twice? Oh the Gods were laughing at their script for this one. He let the ball escape his grasp for another calamity that was tapped in. It's rare and I could only shrug despondently watching us dissolve any potential for competitiveness. It's funny, right? One of the best defences in the league and the only way an opposing side can get past us, is if we assist them via one of the best (if not the best) keeper plying his trade.
At 2-0 down, I was half-heartedly prepared to surrender. Thank the lord I'm just a supporter and not a player. Not that I'm prone to ignoring our never say die attitude, but I had this ominous feeling that the game was waving goodbye to any hope I was clinging onto. How many teams survive further punishment once going two down at the City of Manchester stadium?
"If we score the next one, we're in with a chance", the only soundbite I could entertain with polite desperation.
I love a football cliche. We only went and scored the next one.
Kyle Walker with one of the most deliciously curling crosses you'll see. So good, had me licking the tv screen with sensual appreciation. That boy Dele Alli doing what he does best and planting his head on the ball for the all important 'giver of hope' goal.
Now what happens next might be luck. It might be fate. It's most definitely pedigree banter. I got drunk on the salty tears that rained down in the post-game discussions. It might also be our brand new ability to somehow influence the cosmic ether of football where rather than being punished by decisions, we take advantage of ones that aren't given. Does it suck if it happens to you? Hell yeah. Does it suck if it happens to the other team? Yeah, it happens to everyone, but you mostly don't care for the other team. Football is about mistakes, making them and taking advantage. The crux of the debate is in the decisions made, either by the players or the officials. Let goal line technology do its thing but leave the rest alone. Football is by its very nature cruel. If you attempt to tame it, it loses the edge that gives us games like the one we witnessed this weekend. If this decision went against us I'd be blogging 100k rants about the injustice.
< insert deal with it meme here >
Walker this time blatantly pushing Raheem Sterling with Andre Marriner ignoring any intentions to blow his whistle, point to the spot, award a penalty and send him off. Sterling chose not to dive. Apparently the reason players tumble is to guarantee they get the decisions because fighting gravity won't bless them with one. Our marauding full-back even admitted post-match he had to do something to put Sterling off. It's a laugh out loud moment, it's such a 'f*ck it' classic from Walker. Do or die. Another day, another ref...we'd be crucifying him for his 'stupidity'. Personally, I got him down as a hero for this one.
The next passage of play, Son smacks in the equaliser after some fine build up work and a cheeky little nonchalant flick from Harry Kane to set him up.
Sure, City are generous with their reluctance to make their shots towards target count. Yes, the ref had an absolute nightmare. But to then consider our keeper also had a 'mare and the team - individually and collectively were below average - yet we still dug deep and found a way. Not fazed or downhearted or fearful. If you're not going to win then I'll take almost losing but securing a point every time. Especially at City. We only have to visit Anfield now, our fixture list is quite favourable for the run-in in terms of travel. Our home form is fortress levels of steel. We're left chasing once more, this time Chelsea. Not giving up is the only way this side will ever work towards winning the silverware it deserves. We need to keep it going to deserve that ultimate prize we lust for. Even if the mathematics mock us once again.
Some general observations and shares:
No Vincent Janssen on the bench (again). Brutal selection from Poch. We need options. He was meant to the main option. Rumours of a rejected loan deal to Turkey. Considering the work that goes into scouting and pinpointing transfer acquisitions, I'd be shocked if we completely give up on him. Not that mistakes don't happen (they're almost impossible to avoid). Hopefully he's getting his head sorted. And mobility. And first touch. And goal-scoring boots fitted. With Erik Lamela still sidelined with a mystery hip injury, we're desperately short. We're always desperately short.
I wouldn't read too much into Wimmer's performance. Baptism of fire. Ben Davies perhaps the better option for this particular type of game, but as noted earlier, three at the back was asking to be abused. It's a learning curve with massive risk attached to it. What is grand about this team and their ethic is they continually soak in the experience - good and bad - and evolve from it. Poch made a mistake, the team along with him recovered from it. Missing you Jan Vertonghen. Missed him last season too. Kevin slotted in and did the business. He has to do the same again.
Love Mousa Dembele, the ball sticks to his feet like glue yadda yadda yadda. I think when he's in possession it relieves some tension and can elevate pressure but so can releasing it quickly and decisively. Way back, during the erratic stages in his Spurs career, he'd get into forward positions and never make the right choice. He's a far more accomplished player these-days but perhaps occasionally looks to own far too much responsibility. You don't need to weigh yourself down Mousa. Running at the opposing side is something he can afford to do against lesser teams with imperious regularity. I felt, considering the circumstances, he could have been more expressive with his options. But then this is just second-rate tactical insight I processed during the game whilst suffering from persistent bouts of anxiety. So I might be exaggerating my concern.
Victor Wanyama continues to be the type of player that would stereo-typically be refereed to as an unsung hero when the reality is everybody knows and appreciates his worth to the team and the value he adds, game in game out. He's the worst kept kinda secret. A force of nature, defends like a colossus, destroys like Godzilla. Every blog, it's the same love-in. A truly incredible signing that has measurably improved the team.
That Danny Rose tackle. He wrapped his leg around to get the ball. He got the ball. What do I care if the player he was challenging 'lost his balance'. Not a penalty m8. The punditry was actually borderline laughable but then when isn't it? The Rose tackle was just one example of their reluctance to speak positively about us. Still, if the day arrives when pundits are universally in support of Spurs, imma gonna cut my ears off. Yes, City had a wallop of unjustness smacked across their face from the Mike Dean wannabe. Where's that 'deal with it' meme at? Let's put it down to the universe realigning itself. Super Mario stamp on Parker, anyone?
Praise Jesus. His goal (ruled off for offside) and the celebration that followed was gloriously comedic. Like trying to walk on water and drowning. No miracle for the debutante.
Even if Spurs are not synergising, if key players are quiet and off the pace, we can still depend on one or two to hold the spine just about together. That's enough. We have visionaries and fighters meaning, give us a couple of goal-sight chances and we might just take them. A big difference between now and earlier in the season when nothing quite flowed and our timing was mostly anti-clockwise.
Pep: "Spurs are an outstanding team. I enjoy them, when I'm at home and see Tottenham play I enjoy them a lot". Guardiola doesn't need Pornhub. Still, we got outplayed. We actually got outplayed. Can't believe I'm saying that. Okay, sure, we sort of made it easy for them to boss the midfield and final third and contain any threat we might have attempted to muster up. It's how we tend to lose games these days, by being a little on the crap side compared to the might of power we can routinely produce. You still have to be really good to get something off us.
The manner in which City swarmed was a sharp reminder that once Pep does get his side going (next season probably), we'll have yet another obstacle to overcome. He might be touting us as the 'best team in the country' but there's real potential for that accolade to be shared between a number of clubs. We might not be heading towards another 'Sky Sports top four era' (the gulf will never be as big as it was back then) but there's a distinct possibility that one of a selected few (maybe six, probably five) will always be in with a chance. Then it becomes about inches. Stealing points here and there. Small margins, thin lines.
Not easy this challenging for the title lark, is it? At the top of the table it's all about eliminating the flaws so that you can floor the teams around you. City should have had us dead and buried. We need to refine our approach to games (soak up pressure with more control) however, the desire to keep on going no matter the home sides imperfections is the reason the game ended up 2-2.
Spurs displayed true grit and character, no need for a magic bullet here. Two shots, both on target, ruthless in execution. Citizens assassinated, at least in the context of what should have been a parade exclusive only to them. Who cares for the media conspiracy? I'm happy with the point earned. Did we drop two? Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it's disappointing if you place yourself back to before kick-off. However, if you don't start well and the opposing side do, then all the pre-match predictions and momentum are completely irrelevant for the duration of the game left to play. Truly decent (great) teams have to graft their way out of trouble. It's an essential trait. We have it.
Worst performance of the season? Best point of the season. Give me some of that tasty paradox to feast on.
We're still unbeaten at home. Our away record remains a modern day phenomenon (compared to any given decade in the past). Twenty-two games in, every one going forward is now a major step towards retaining a challenge. Every twist above and below us, adds to the intensity and expectancy. Our players are set to rest up with a Barcelona winter-break before the FA Cup game (where we'll no doubt rest up again). Sunderland away then follows with Boro at home. Then it's Liverpool away.
You still believing?