LONDON: The looming prospect of a further Champions League adventure against RB Leipzig appeared far from the mind of Tottenham Hotspur as they beat mistake-prone Manchester City 2-0 in a full-blooded Premier League duel in north London.
City were punished for Ilkay Gundogan’s committing his team’s third penalty miss of the season when the match was still goalless shortly before half-time. A red card for Oleksandr Zinchenko saw City reduced to 10 men soon after the break and Spurs immediately scored twice.
Jose Mourinho had begun yet again as the underdog in his rivalry with Pep Guardiola not only because City were still reigning champions because Tottenham had not won any of their previous six Premier League games against City since 2017.
Spurs’ one new arrival during the transfer window, Dutch winger Steven Bergwijn from PSV Eindhoven, made his debut in an attack missing long-term casualty Harry Kane – and what a debut it proved with the new boy scoring a superb opening goal.
City were without centre-back Aymeric Laporte, who returned recently from a lengthy lay-off of his own. Leroy Sane is back in training but was not yet considered ready for the rigours of a feisty Premier League challenge.
City’s record marksman Sergio Aguero hit the posts for the 33rd time in his Premier League in the opening stages before the clash exploded into far greater drama shortly before halftime. VAR playing a decisive role in support of FIFA referee Mike Dean in charge of his 501st senior game.
First Serge Aurier was penalised for tripping Aguero. Dean originally signalled that the fullback had played the ball but VAR confirmed that he had not and Dean changed his decision and awarded a penalty.
Aguero had twice had spotkicks saved in the past by Hugo Lloris so Ilkay Gundogan stepped up. He had a 100pc record with his penalties for City but this proved the end of his sequence as Lloris dived to his left to parry the shot.
The ball ran loose and City claimed another penalty as Raheem Sterling fell over Lloris’s hands as the goalkeeper chased the ball. This time Dean and his assistants back in Stockley Park, North London, decided it was not a penalty.
Mourinho, clearly, demanded that Sterling be shown a red card for diving. In vain. Dean, instead, showed yellow cards to both Spurs’ Toby Alderweireld and City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko for their roles in the 15-player melee which had followed the penalty claim.
Tottenham fans jeered Sterling on his reappearance at the start of the second half, both for the penalty controversy but also for an earlier incident in which he was fortunate to escape a red card for a clumsy tackle which left Dele Alli hobbling.
City were quickly back into their attacking stride but both Aguero and Gundogan were guilty of bad misses in front of an open goal in yet frantic sequence of play.
Tottenham were adopting the traditional old Mourinho tactic of cat-and-mouse. When they did raise a rare threat on the break Lucas Moura was too slow to release his pass and Alli was offside. Then Alli could not quite reach a Son Heung-min assist in time for a shot and City cleared their lines.
Another Spurs break proved disastrous for City after they lost possession at a corner. Harry Winks raced away and was deliberately baulked by Zinchenko. Dean’s decision was easy: obvious yellow card and thus red. City have an insidious reputation for breaking up opponents’ play with ‘little fouls’ and were punished not once but twice over.
Down to 10 men, they immediately conceded a 62nd-minute goal to new boy Bergwijn who took an assist from Moura on the chest and volleyed sweetly beyond Ederson.
City’s lack of cohesion was punished for a second time in the 71st minute. Their possession game broke down yet again and newly-arrived substitute Tanguy Ndombele provided the assist for Son to increase the lead.
At this point in the game City had had 44 shots against Spurs in the league this year and Spurs five against City. Yet it was Spurs who were 4:2 ahead on aggregate and City were heading for a sixth league defeat.