It shows how far Spurs have come when it is not the result from yesterday’s win over Manchester City that was the most encouraging aspect, but the manner of that win. In years gone by, Spurs might have eeked out a narrow win over one of the title contenders through a combination of determination and usually a large slice of good fortune. Yesterday was different. The 11 men in lilywhite shirts out-ran, out-fought and out-played their opposite numbers all over the pitch. They were stronger, fitter and faster to every ball than those in sky blue and underlined their credentials in what is likely to be a long fought title race this season.
Guardiola immediately entered the English game with an aura of invincibility, so much so that some of the teams they have already played appeared to afford them far too much respect. Not Pochettino’s Spurs. They did not sit and admire. They did not spar with the opponent to sound them out. They went for the jugular.
Against Manchester United for 40 minutes City looked imperious, but as soon as United put any pressure on the City back four, cracks appeared to show. Claudio Bravo was brutally exposed by one speculative high ball into the box and the subsequent United high press in the second half sufficiently unnerved City’s defensive line that it laid the blueprint for others to follow.
Celtic got a reasonable amount of success against them in midweek in the Champions League but were unable to keep the City forward line, burgeoning with talent, at bay, culminating in a creditable 3-3 draw. Spurs on the other hand were a marked step up in quality. Up against the best defence in the Premier League, City were unable to fight fire with fire.
Spurs set the tempo from the outset. The crowd fed off the energy shown by the players and that in turn appeared to fuel the players’ hunger and heightened City’s anxieties. White Hart Lane was a cauldron of noise. Spurs were thriving. City were struggling to cope with the intensity. It is days like this that will be sorely missed at the old ground and we must hope that, when the new stadium arrives, this kind of atmosphere is not diluted through expansion.
The first line of the Spurs defence was attack in the shape of the irrepressible Son Heung-Min. From the off, Son hounded Bravo and he was dutifully backed up by Lamela, Alli, Sissoko and Eriksen, closing off any angle for an outball. Spurs were swarming around the City backline. For all those tuning in hoping to see Guardiola’s “tiki taka” metronome, they would be disappointed as the metronome was malfunctioning under the military precision of Pochettino’s gegenpress. City’s passing game was being suffocated by the pure energy and unrelenting pressure of Spurs’ forwards. If Son was the trigger, then Wanyama was the barrell in midfield, gunning down any thread of ambition City could muster. His physicality and strength was proving too much for Fernandinho et al.
Aguero, so often Spurs’ tormenter-in-chief in games between the two teams, was marginalised for long periods, largely outmuscled by the Belgian duo at the back. David Silva too was on the periphery and unable to affect the game in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne. When the defensive lines were breached, the ever dependable Hugo Lloris was on hand to snuff City out.
The difference in the two sets of full backs was also telling. City’s pair are now in their thirties and look battle weary – Zabaleta appears to be on his last legs at this level; Danny Rose’s power and running proving too much for the Argentine. Kolarov has never looked convincing defensively and was a curious choice ahead of Gael Clichy for this reason. His bungled attempt to clear Danny Rose’s cross, which ended up in his own net, underlines this point. Kyle Walker’s relentless energy and enthusiasm to attack gave Kolarov little respite over the course of the 90 minutes.
Despite the penalty miss from Lamela midway through the second half, this was not your average nail-biting Spurs win. In truth it was relatively comfortable – as assured a performance as you are likely to see against a team who were previously at maximum points from 6 league games.
And it is worth remembering that this win came without their talisman, Harry Kane, or midfield dynamo, Moussa Dembele.
It is testament to Pochettino that his team have put their hugely disappointing end to last season firmly behind them and have shown the character and appetite to go again.
Spurs now remain the only unbeaten team in the league, one point behind City and will be more than encouraged from yesterday’s demolition job that they can go toe-to-toe with City and others in the title race. Based on the intensity, power and precision that was evident at White Hart Lane yesterday, they may take some stopping.