It will be argued that the Blues have had it
easy up until now but they did to their other
opponents what Spurs did to them: made
them look average through their own
Pep Guardiola has said a few times he
knows what will happen when his
Manchester City finally lose, and we are
about to find out if he is right.
The Catalan intimated his high-intensity
approach will be scrutinised, that he himself
will be looked at differently. He says he has
a novelty factor and that it will wear off
someday and, no doubt, there are many
waiting for any excuse to write him off.
Before we get into the inquest, however, it
must be pointed out that Tottenham were
excellent in their 2-0 victory. In fact, their
excellence is central to the point. The
Spurs players did not give City an
inch. They knew their gameplan
and executed it to perfection - working their
socks off and passing with precision.
Heung-Min Son continued his fine form,
Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were
majestic, and Vincent Wanyama and
Moussa Sissoko shut down what has so
often been a perfectly functioning City
So what went wrong for Guardiola's
side? Without the injured Kevin De Bruyne
and the quietly impressive Nolito, who is
suspended, Guardiola looked for extra legs
in his midfield and pushed Fernandinho
further forward in place of Ilkay Gundogan,
and brought Fernando and Jesus Navas
into the side.
t is the first time Fernandinho has not sat
at the back of the midfield, and the first
Premier League game that De Bruyne has
missed. Those alterations are sure to harm
City, but it is hard to imagine they would
have been able to stop this relentless Spurs
The Londoners' gameplan also exploited
some areas of City's squad that many
would have strengthened over the
summer. Nicolas Otamendi was
isolated and looked as ragged as he did for
much of his debut season; Pablo Zabaleta
was again overwhelmed, and Aleksandar
Kolarov had his second poor game of the
week. Back in May, few would have expected any
of those three to start the season
but Guardiola had, until now, got everything
out of them that he could, and he will do
The truth of it is that Spurs made City look
average. Their effort and discipline rendered
Guardiola's best plans ineffective; the
system broke down and the individuals
within it were exposed.
The Catalan has talked about how his
team will be "much, much better" in his
third season, a point in time which is too far
down the line to imagine. But this is
Mauricio Pochettino's third season at White
Hart Lane, and it is clear that his men are
firmly entrenched in his approach to the
If they looked much, much better than City
it is because they are far more advanced in
their work together. The Blues have the
bigger budget but both managers' systems
are designed to get the best out of their
line-up, no matter who it comprises, and on
the day Spurs' system was superior and
they had the right players to put it into
practice. It is not going overboard to say
once again that they were fantastic.
And that is why the
inevitable suggestion that City have failed
their first real test of the season is facile.
For starters, City struggled to win two
games on the bounce last season, let alone
10. What Guardiola has done with this
group of players since he took charge at the
start of June was mightily impressive before
this match and remains mightily impressive
It is easy in football to be wise after the
fact, and for a game's difficulty to be
immediately reassessed as soon as the
final whistle blows. The Manchester derby
was supposed to be City's first real test,
and they blitzed it. But instead of the
performance being acknowledged for what
it was, it was said United were poor, that
Jose Mourinho got it wrong. But what City
did to United that day, Spurs did to City
here. Their first test, in a literal sense, was
Sunderland on the opening day, and they
did enough to win it despite a late set-
back. They saw out a difficult period
against West Ham. They were rattled at
Swansea a week ago, but rallied. Those
were tests. Not against top sides, but they
are tests. City are not top of the league -
even after this defeat - for no reason.
City did not win those games because they
played bad teams, but because City are a
very good one. They did not lose this match
because they are a bad team, but
because Spurs are terrific.
The Blues were certainly not at their best,
and there are issues to correct - but
Guardiola himself has said this all along.
This is the start of the project.
Perhaps this is a reality check for those
supporters and pundits who dismissed
Guardiola's warnings and got carried
away with City's blistering start. But the
idea that they have had it easy up until
now is simply wrong. They deserve credit
for what they have done until now, and a
wonderful Tottenham side should be fully


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