LONDON — Three points from Tottenham’s 2-0 win vs. Manchester City in the Premier League.
1. Tottenham win a top-of-the-table clash
By virtue of a tremendous win that has changed the face of the early title race, Tottenham have also altered a few perceptions.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team did not just make a previously rampant Manchester City look all too human; they made them look like boys playing men, such was the physical power and impressive intensity of the hosts.
After the pre-game talk and fear of what City could do if they also won this game to stretch their lead to five points, Spurs thundered into the game and into so many challenges. By the time the dust had settled, it was Pochettino’s men, who were left as the only remaining unbeaten team in the Premier League. City suffered their first defeat and are now just a point ahead of Spurs.
On the day, though, Pep Guardiola’s team looked someway behind them. They were certainly chasing them for much of it. Right from the start and the way they applied their high-powered pressing, Spurs were close to perfect.
They went into the lead after just nine minutes, with Danny Rose’s left-wing cross forcing the hapless Aleksandar Kolarov into a clearance that instead went in off his own bar.
On 37 minutes it was two when the home side surged forward with a pace of play that City struggled to live with. Indeed, their only challenge saw the ball cannon to Son in the air and he deftly played the ball through for Dele Alli, who calmly swept past Bravo.
The only flaw, in fact, in Tottenham’s display was Erik Lamela’s 66th-minute penalty miss, saved by Claudio Bravo after Lamela had a debate with Son Heung-Min about who should take it. It says a lot that the game had already been won by that point.
Guardiola might have been missing Kevin De Bruyne and Nolito, but Pochettino was without Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele. Their absence was not felt as Spurs drew closer to City and suggested they could again go very close to this title.
2. Man City’s momentum is checked
After it seemed that Manchester City would easily glide to the title, the last week has shown a clear way to give them real problems. Celtic suggested it in the 3-3 Champions League draw and now Spurs have made it clear with an emphatic display.
If you have the bravery to press Man City high, they struggle to bring the ball out; it completely saps them of their verve and movement. There were long stretches of the first half at White Hart Lane, where City just couldn’t seem to get the ball away from their own penalty area.
The defence just couldn’t start moves in the way Guardiola expects, because a relentless Spurs were stopping them at source in the way Pochettino demands.
Some of that had to do with personnel. Guardiola has medium-term plans to change his full-backs — Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov — and bring in another central midfielder to upgrade Fernando, but he shelved them in the past transfer window because other areas were in more pressing need of improvement.
On Sunday, though, those areas were the biggest issues, while the absence of De Bruyne was also notable because City lacked that out-ball and the pace offered by the Belgian, which would have stretched Pochettino’s side.
As it was, City couldn’t under-cut Spurs’ press by giving them their own problem to deal with and De Bruyne’s replacement Jesus Navas just ended up shuttling up and down the pitch to little effect, which is nothing new.
Nor is the way beat Guardiola; Pochettino showed how to do it with Espanyol seven years ago. The question is whether other teams can replicate it and whether City themselves will be quite as susceptible with different players in their starting XI.
For now, though, someone has as at least — and at last — offered a response to the leaders’ rampant start.
3. Spurs show their strength
Back in August, when one of his key midfielders was still suspended, Pochettino said: “Without Mousa Dembele, we do not exist.”
It was intended as a light-hearted comment, but still had substance behind it given the Belgian’s ability to get things moving. It might also have been a bit of a message for the rest of the team. Whatever the intention, without the hamstrung Dembele, Sunday saw a different Spurs.
It helps that new signings Victor Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko have such muscularity, not just to increase the size of this team across the XI, but also that the way they imposed themselves meant City couldn’t do much at all.
If Spurs’ press generally stopped their opponents, the midfield duo suffocated them. There was a sign in the first few minutes, when Wanyama made a challenge on Fernandinho in the middle, and then came away with the ball despite two City players crowding around him.
Sissoko did similar just before half-time in a much more dangerous position, but in a much more eye-catching way. With Raheem Sterling trying to use trickery to fashion a chance, the Frenchman trampled over him and surged away.
City just couldn’t get close to Spurs and, on the rare occasions they did, they were overpowered.