Tottenham Hotspur 2 Manchester City 0
What a thunderous first half display of lightning football from pressing Tottenham that left Pep Guardiola's passing Manchester City utterly battered and bewildered.
This was the perfect all-encompassing Mauricio Pochettino showcase for high tempo pressure, pushing the visitors into the middle of next week. This was the aggressive counter attacking football that Andre Villas-Boas promised and left us dreaming for. It was breathtaking, relentless. Possibly our best under Poch. Spurs swarmed around the pitch like killer bees, stinging opposition players, never failing to make their presence felt, pollinating possession into rich honey tasting football. It was a masterclass of organisation. The nectar of the Gods.
(This blog is going to be heavy on the glitter so deal with it)
First to every second ball, Spurs mindset was as focused and disciplined as it could possibly get. It wasn't frantically executed. We executed City fantastically. I have no idea if they had a game-plan because we didn't allow them the freedom to attempt one.
Welcome to England Pep. Welcome to the cauldron. Welcome to The Lane.
Before kick-off, the obvious concern was the absence of Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier. I've written plenty in recent weeks about how the team has to formulate a plan B. Reliance on individuals is very much an old skool Tottenham trait and in this new age of synergy and team unity it's abundantly clear that the players need to be flexible.
It's always been the aim to have depth and rotate without weakening the teams dynamic. Dembele offers us a premium option when he plays. As Poch stated post-Liverpool draw, '...without Mousa Dembele, we do not exist'. Poch being overly dramatic it seems. Against City, for the first time, we witnessed how good we can be without him and one or two others. So much so, I forgot about the missing players five minutes into the game. This made me joyful. It was enough to make you forget about Dre. Well, almost.
Then about half an hour later, I waited for the shift. For City to up their own tempo and take control, forcing a foothold in the game. It never came. It was never going to happen. Sure, there was a period or two in the second half where they asserted themselves in the final third. Which is perfectly understandable. They're a top tier side with world class players and a coach that is possibly the best at managing high profile squads. They are still clearly the favourites for the title. So when they attacked, during our momentary lulls, there was always a mouthful of heart being chewed on. Yet their intricate clever quick passing was often over elaborate. An afterthought, a cameo to the home teams concise physicality and mental dominance.
I'm not even exaggerating.
When we play weaker teams and brush them aside we're often told to 'calm down' because the quality of the opposition wasn't strong in comparison. If the excuse to downplay our performance this time round is the lack of resolve City offered, then that's not our problem. It's theirs. As Guardiola graciously stated post-match, our high pressing created problems for them all over the pitch. When it came to the fights, we won them all. Pochettino killing it with his own victory interview, citing 'aggressivity'. The word of the week right there.
As I've stated already, City's display was as good as we allowed it to be. Ours proves we have the mettle to deal with the very best (even if arguably both teams are nowhere their best). Pep's strategy flawed with their approach to this game, a moment of unforgiving gravity for them as they plummeted back down to earth. They'll learn from it and adapt.
You have to be blind not to see how Spurs persistently seek to evolve. At the start of the season, we all obviously questioned how that might happen. You worry that the players being signed might not be up to the standard required. You're busy comparing players pound for pound with rival squads. You then scratch your chin, pointing at perhaps one or two losing form and quizzing whether they're able to rediscover it. It's the natural defensive mechanisms of the sporting brain and as Spurs fans, we all know to expect bad luck or an unnerving miracle that helps others claim the glory. As eloquently put by one Spurs fan in the pub after the game: "We'll win the league and still finish below Arsenal". Self-depreciation, practically an art-form we've trademarked and the pinnacle of protecting ones ego.
We (the fans) are also having to constantly adapt with the team, reworking expectations and remembering to enjoy the journey as much as our players. Spurs can now change personnel with confidence. And if you wish to entertain the reality that City will find a way to combat our style of sprint inspired football, then entertain the truth that we can find further dimensions to our play too. With and without the missing players. Incredibly, we're still shaping our identity with the experience of last season supporting our continued maturity. Retaining the ascendancy is no easy task but the backbone is there to attempt it. Look at how unfazed and professional we are with the disappointment we endured. Backbone and nerves of steel.
'It's also only seven games though' screams the klaxon of non-emotive reason.
It's ludicrously early in the season, there's no denying it. But here we are, second and unbeaten. Yet to concede a goal from open play (in the league). Those underwhelming results at the start of 2016/17 prove the point of patience. A single game in isolation doesn't mean too much but does in amongst the context of several games. Seven done and dusted and you can now paint a far better picture than the scribble from a single outing.
We're not too shabby, right?
If City was our first real test, we owned it. We have to keep producing this level of football against the teams that traditionally sit above us. Last season we slowly picked up the pace and forced ourselves into a title race, however we never got into a position of genuine control. We played a game of catch-up and simply never caught up. This time we might lead from the front, sharing the honour with one or two others. That's the next level, the new target to aim for. A new learning curve to test our desire and then hopefully smash past it with unbridled passion.
As for the football played?
The second half was just as good as the first but for completely different reasons. In the first, we suffocated City incessantly. Refusing to allow them any time and space to attempt to dictate and stick studs on the ball. In the second, we contained and contaminated their prospects. Chemical Alli in the mix. It was all so on point, so much focus and determination to see out the game without surrendering more than a minute at a time.
Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were immense, powering down the flanks. Absolute vikings pillaging the space ahead of them. Both fullbacks, the best in the land. Don't even care if you disagree.
Victor Wanyama proving again to be such an astute signing (copy and pasted from every single blog I've written this season). So strong and positionally supportive of others players that push forward. He also proved me wrong with his ability to turn defence into attack. He dispossessed Fernandinho and started the build up play to the opening goal. We've often flirted with the ideology of a working DM that isn't illusionary. Be it Palacios or Sandro - both destroyers on their day but not often enough. Wanyama is now a first choice player in a midfield of first choice gems. D-E-P-T-H. He might not be as cultured as say Dembele with the 'defence into attack' ethic, but at speed when breaking - he has proven he can provide the required springboard.
Rose and Wanyama were both booked. It happens, but to keep up the tempo regardless was a sight to behold. I can't overstate how stone cold most of our players are when it comes to composed delivery of team instructions. There's no obvious allowance for capitulation at this level and with these players. Whereas last season we had nothing to cover the key areas that were depleted thanks to suspension and injury.
Eriksen was deep and Modric-esque with that classic underrated recycling of the ball - starting things before you realise they've started.
Moussa Sissoko provided glimpses of his weaponry but still needs his guidance system to be calibrated for his new team. Perfectly summed up by a friend (so much wisdom in football pubs); He was the nucleus for starting things at Newcastle which is a pressured responsibility especially if those around you are not of similar class. At Spurs, he's given a more specific duty and doesn't need to carry players on his shoulders. So in time, he'll have a far sharper product to present in a team far superior to his previous one. Proof? His performances for France were far more polished than the ones he had in black and white.
Our central defenders, immaculate as ever. Repeat mode activated; How great is our defence? How many times have you asked yourself that question in the past twenty years? Those dreadful memories from the 90s and early 00s finally brushed aside. Hugo Lloris distribution on a couple of occasions, was however a touch woeful. That's probably the very worst thing you could find to complain about. He had three or four saves to make, perhaps fortunate with the one that struck the woodwork, but there you go. If the striker doesn't find the net, you've done your job as a keeper and a team.
Over at the other end, we really should have had City buried.
Son playing as a false nine, interchanging with Dele Alli - swashbuckling beauty in motion. Here's more evidence of adaptability and harnessing the likes of Son and his irresistible form. We've gone and got ourselves a brand new poster-boy for the Poch Press. Son so direct with his football, the driving force with our forward transitions, leading the way for others to instinctively follow. It's been said by fans and pundits alike, it was at times peak Harry Kane. It was bloody brilliant, the pressure applied on City's back four and in particular Claudio Bravo in goal, who often struggled with his footwork and passing because of our perpetual pestering inside his penalty area.
The second goal was a swift counter with us winning the ball in centre midfield. Son to Alli, tried to find Erik Lamela, the ball took a deflection back to Son who cleverly played in the locomotive youngster. He slotted home, expertly dragging the ball into the corner. It was brutal slap. The opener also had a splash of good fortune, Spurs once more winning the ball centrally and countering down the flank. Rose with the cross that Aleksandar Kolarov scuffed into his goal. The highlights on Match of the Day made the game look like a smash and grab. In its entirety, Spurs had plenty of chances across the ninety minutes to damn City to a more hellish defeat than the one they got. No amount of astute editing can do us justice.
The passage of play leading up to one such moment (another escape for the visitors) was with the penalty. It was a glorious flowing move that ended with Dele flying in the air. The penalty, not so impressive. Lamela took the ball for himself and pretty much telegraphed it. Here's another incident that you might care enough to moan about. Such privileged lives we live these-days, outplaying City at home and cursing that we only won 2-0.
Lamela had one of those games where he grafted as hard as others (or rather they grafted as hard as he usually does) but failed to be precise more often than not. He was involved in both goals, always biting away to reclaim a ball but the annoyance was more with what he did with the ball at feet. Too often, he would run forward and cut inside, show too much of it, lose the ball or 'retain' possession by tackling/lunging it back to a team-mate. His performance wasn't tidy, but it was still good enough because no City player matched his tenacity.
The argument over who took the penalty will no doubt be handled internally by Poch. Hard to know if Lamela had the rightful claim or Son. It probably didn't help but at least we have players hungry enough to fight for it. Next time, leave the designated soul to attempt a stab at glory.
Spurs, having won away in the Champions League, plucked a potential European hangover out of its belly-button and flicked it away like feathery fluff. Two outstanding displays on the bounce, no excuses or tiredness. Undeniable guile from the players and perfection with the managers selection. Vincent Janssen will want to make an impact soon but for the time being he'll have to wait for his chance via the bench or League Cup. Competition for places is pure fire.
The media post-match obviously defaulted to defusing the result a touch, that's unless you caught the '16 Conclusions' article over at Football365 or Barney Ronay's review for the Guardian. Which is truly okay with me. I'd rather us remain under the radar or relatively ignored by all the hyperbole and odds. Although that might prove to be impossible if we remain top three across the next few months. Sky Sports were delightfully disconnected suggesting that Celtic showed us how to beat them. On Football Weekly, they downplayed it all by saying City have only played lowly sides and that Spurs can't possibly press like this every week.
* checks fixture list *
We don't have to play City every week (my mind is blown). So I think we can manage our pressing intensity based on the opposing team and reserve a little for key games, regardless of the competition and our longevity in it.
There was also the usual backhanded compliment.
Maybe the expression isn't completely fitting. There's this tradition to separate key components of a Tottenham team from the club and its fanbase. It's as if one exists in a parallel universe to the other. Our best player (i.e. see Gareth Bale as prime example) or manager are targeted. In this case 'Sky Sports understands' that (Poch) deserves something better and to not be associated with Spurs even though he's Spurs but let's ignore Spurs altogether and wish him away to another club. That might well happen someday but what's so difficult with backing the underdog in the present? SEVEN GAMES INTO THE SEASON. Is this potential fairy-tale nothing more than a nightmare for the establishment? Is it because we're no longer underdogs but contenders?
Gary Neville was both positive and patronising with his take. He shared insight relating to our extended patches of complete 'energy' from 0-35 minutes and then 45-70. He referenced how we tackled all of the time, always sticking a foot in and not fearful of giving fouls away. Then he ruined it by saying Pochettino's coaching is the perfect dress rehearsal for a move to a bigger club - which he deserves. You see, in the big wide world of football coverage and commentary, managers have to aspire to coach a club deemed to be massive both financially and historically. Why? Because attempting to make a club big or challenge and defeat the elite is perceived as practice time and inconsequential filler.
As a Spurs fan, how can you possibly not be 100% behind your club against the sickly might of just about everyone out there. Let's not forget the roll-overs some teams performed last season as we chased down Leicester City. The transparency with bias was more than evident. The discomfort they have is in them admitting we might just be a proper team, not another flash in the pan. No one wants us to win. I love the polite hate they all have for us. I want to drink their salty tears. I want to use it as lube.
We can't have their love and their disdain. It's one or the other. So I'll take the latter and hashtag 'under the radar'. The moment they do love us will be the moment we attain that undisputed glory and the problem we'll have is becoming the very thing that we dislike. That's a problem for another day, in the near future.
Looking back on Sunday, some Tottenham supporters were brave enough to suggest the result wasn't really that shocking or surprising. Perhaps some of the more grounded journalists felt the same.
As a collective, I don't think we'll embrace such brazen confidence until we actually win something. But it's a good place to be in. To even consider it and do so without laughable claims by others that we're suffering from delusion. The noise of belief inside the ground was nigh epic at times and proved how together the team and fans are with this war we wish to wage.
The joy was equally wondrous post-match, swaggering out of the Park Lane - every man and woman a king and queen of their domain. Winter is coming and those heavenly thunderous clouds will continue to brood above the rest of the land, cracking the occasional light show to scare and dazzle them all.
Tottenham. The swarm bringing the storm.
'Fate whispers to the warrior..."You cannot withstand the storm".
The warrior stares back and whispers...
"I am the storm"'.