Spurs 2 Man City 0 - No school like Mourinho's old school
And up to the opening day this season, where Spurs limply lost 1-0 to Everton, it certainly seemed that the Special One’s insistence on a style of football that was on the same entertainment level as competitive paint drying was destroying the beautiful game, at least for this Spurs fan.
Oh, little did we know that it was all a plan to get the best out of a Spurs team that was never going to technically match the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
If last season’s win over the Citizens by the same 2-0 margin had an element of luck with them going down to 10 men, this season’s win was anything but. Mourinho, now calling himself the Experienced One, showed that defensive football can be beautiful as well.
WATCH: Mourinho 'proud' of his team after City win
The systematic shackling of the creative talents of Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, and then subsequently Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden, rendered their 22 chances an irrelevant fact, because City really only created three real chances of any note - one De Bruyne goal bound effort that struck a prone and offside Jesus, a goal rightly chalked off for handball thanks to VAR, and a super save by Hugo Lloris in injury time from a Ruben Dias header from six yards in what could have set up a nightmarish reminder of West Ham had it gone in.
Other than that, the other 19 chances were mostly shots from outside the box with very little threat or tame shots straight at Lloris.
As much as Spurs seem to love showing City this medical drama called Clinical Finishing (in the last three meetings between these two, Spurs have scored six goals from seven shots on target, while City has scored two in 71 chances created), this match had all the hallmarks of a tactical masterclass. Or more accurately, it was a strangle-class.
For all the neat triangles, mazy dribbles and precision final third passing that City displayed, Spurs closed down every pocket of space inside their own box. Whether it was Sergio Reguilon putting Mahrez in his pocket on the left, or Moussa Sissoko and Serge Aurier double teaming to keep an excellent Joao Cancelo, an average Silva or a frustrated Ferran Torres quiet on the right, or the triple teaming of Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier or Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on Jesus, Spurs strangled the creativity out of City like it was the star of a long-running horror movie franchise.
Yet, unlike the previous versions of Mourinho’s now famous parked bus, this was a turbo-charged London bus that knew exactly how to get to its destination. It wasn’t designed to only keep clean sheets, it was like watching a velociraptor just waiting to pounce on its helpless human prey.
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Despite creating only four chances, Spurs often looked dangerous when they got into City’s final third, almost always as a result of a lightning quick counter-attack. This was soak and strike done to such perfection that if the match was a five course meal, it would have been awarded three Michelin stars.
The best part, it was absolutely fascinating to watch, if a little bit nerve wracking at times because of City’s quality.
That said, while it was an absorbing match, there aren’t that many highlights worth mentioning. Whatever there was are as follows.
Line up: Dier was pretty bad in England’s loss to Belgium, so seeing him at the heart of Spurs’ defence, coupled with the usually erratic Serge Aurier on the right, didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Steven Bergwijn starting was also a bit of a surprise, as most would have expected Lucas Moura or Gareth Bale, but I guess Bergwijn having missed the internationals swung this match his way. Probably a good line-up, but it’s giving me a hope-for-the-best kind of feeling.
0-4 mins: City plays monkey with Spurs
Seriously, are we ever going to hold onto the ball for more than 3 seconds? City are stroking the ball around with ease. Torres already gets a shot off but it’s straight at Lloris. This could be a long 90 mins.
5th min: GOAL! Son the sniper!
Out of nowhere, Tanguy Ndombele picks up the ball in the middle of the park, and majestically sidesteps two players. Harry Kane drops deep as if to pick up a pass and drags both Dias and Aymeric Laporte with him. With Professor X telepathy, Son starts his run and Ndombele strokes a lob right into Son’s path. Ederson comes out to make himself big, probably a mistake, and Son sends it between his legs for the first goal. What a start!
9th min: Jesus turns defender for Spurs, blocks certain goal
Jesus dribbles into the Spurs box from the left but Alderweireld sticks out a leg to block and probably saves a goal, but wait, it’s not over, because here comes De Bruyne for the loose ball and it’s going in! That is, until it hits a prone Jesus and the offside flag is raised. There’s some life in City.
13th min: GOAL DISALLOWED! Kane was unnecessarily offside
Nice bit of play from Bergwijn to find Son on the right and he would only ever find his strike partner Kane in the far post, but the England forward had moved just too early as he sheepishly poked it into an empty net. Pity, a good move that deserved a goal.
27th min: GOAL 1-1! Spurs crack finally.
Mahrez crosses from the right and it eludes everyone to find Jesus on the left, who brings the ball down with what looks like his chest. He lays it off to an onrushing Laporte who makes no mistake and sweeps it into the bottom left corner. Oh well, that was fun while it lasted.
28th min: DISALLOWED! VAR! VAR!
As it turns out, Jesus didn’t chest the ball down, he used his forearm to bring the ball under control! Nothing escapes the eagle-eyed VAR! You the best!
29 - 64th min: More City monkey business.
It’s almost like watching a scripted play. City continue to pass around with ease, but often end up in a cul de sac or a long shot. Not many chances to talk about. And then, in the 64th minute, Giovani Lo Celso comes on for a tiring Ndombele.
65th min: GOAL! Instant impact by Lo Celso!
Dier breaks up a City attack, immediately finds Kane deep and he turns and runs with the ball looking for options. Bergwijn on his left cuts in, pulling Kyle Walker with him and Lo Celso enters the space vacated by the pair. Kane laser guides a pass to the unmarked Lo Celso who obliges by stroking it once again through Ederson’s legs into goal. Kane is showing everyone what a pass master he is with yet another assist, while Ederson is showing everyone that he would like a sarong for Christmas.
66 - 90th min: City keeps trying, but Spurs are Dwayne Johnson
Even throwing on Sterling and Foden doesn’t make a difference. Up to this point, the only real downer for Spurs is Alderweireld pulling his adductor muscle late in the game while taking a free kick. This might impact Spurs’ very tough run of games coming up, but this game is pretty much won.
90th min: Lloris saves Spurs from a nervy ending
De Bruyne places a free kick from the right with pinpoint precision to Dias who is just six yards out. He must score! But, no! Lloris somehow produces a hand to block the header! Amazing concentration from the skipper at the death. This is how points are won.
This match marks just a day after Mourinho’s first year at Spurs. By now, no one can deny he’s completely turned things around for Spurs and it’s no fluke that they sit at the top of the table nine games in. Staying there will be tough, and in truth, no Spurs fan truly expects it, because there’s still a really long season to go.
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The statistics in the match would tell you Spurs was lucky to win this match, but that’s when stats lie. Mourinho’s Spurs had this under control from kick-off and you sense that if this was going to be Spurs’ year, it will because Mourinho proved that there’s no school like his old school.