·3 December 2023
·3 December 2023
Ange Postecoglou has still not emulated Cristian Stellini and Nuno Espirito Santo but he may have made his point in rather different fashion. It was not exactly “Angeball” in its purest form but it was compelling, chaotic entertainment as Tottenham halted their losing streak, picked up an improbable point and gave Arsenal a bigger cushion at the Premier League summit than they presumably expected.
Spurs are no strangers to late drama at the Etihad Stadium, whether the disallowed Sergio Aguero goal that sent them on their way towards the 2019 Champions League final or Harry Kane’s 95th-minute winner in 2022. They completed a hat-trick of sorts, frustrating Manchester City again courtesy of Dejan Kulusevski. Not exactly known for his heading, the Swede soared above Nathan Ake – a defender brought on to see out a victory – and headed in Brennan Johnson’s cross. For the second time, Tottenham had come from behind. In their own way, they had scored four of the six goals, with Son Heung-min – not quite the prodigal son – proving more prolific than they had hoped by finding the net at each end.
For City, however, this was the rout that wasn’t, the game that promised a thrashing and delivered a draw. They were inches from putting Tottenham out of sight, twice hitting the woodwork, and squandered some fine chances, but a lack of ruthlessness meant they ended up dropping points at the Etihad for a second successive weekend.
Spurs have proved their scourge before – besides the unlikely duo of Nuno and the caretaker Stellini, Mauricio Pochettino, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have all registered victories against Pep Guardiola’s City – but perhaps not in such circumstances. Minus nine injured players and lacking an available specialist centre-back, there may have been a muddled magnificence in the way they both surged and stumbled to a draw.
There was spirit in abundance from Postecoglou’s motley crew, but also much to admire in the quality of each of their goals: they have long troubled City with quick counterattacks and the incisiveness of Son. After Jeremy Doku lost the ball, the South Korean sped clear to score his eighth goal against Guardiola’s City – only Mohamed Salah and Jamie Vardy have more – even if Ederson ought to have saved his shot.
Then Giovani Lo Celso unveiled a lovely clean strike to score for the second consecutive week after his Argentina teammate Julian Alvarez’s pass was intercepted. Finally, Kulusevski struck and City had mislaid four points in nine days on home turf.
There was ambition from Spurs at the end, but also on the teamsheet. Yet they were a curious blend of ambition and realism throughout. This was not the kamikaze high line Spurs’ nine men had used against Chelsea. Tottenham were defending deeper, the idealist in Postecoglou adopting a more pragmatic approach he may have borrowed from some of his predecessors. Starved of possession, camped behind the ball at times, it wasn’t supposed to be the way they play.
Yet they had a threat on the break; Johnson and Son unsettled City throughout. They were the spearheads of a strange side, more through necessity than choice. With Eric Dier making it nine injured players, there was an idiosyncratic look with a defence populated entirely by full-backs, and then five wingers or attacking midfielders ahead of Yves Bissouma. If it suggested a lack of balance, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was brought on at the break to add ballast alongside Bissouma.
At times, Spurs threatened to ease City’s passage to victory, giving the ball away in their own third time and again. There was an emblematic moment in the seconds after the interval when Guglielmo Vicario made a spectacular save from Bernardo Silva, but only to secure redemption for his own dreadful pass. Certainly, they rode their luck when City twice rattled the frame of the goal in the first half, Doku’s curler striking the bar, Alvarez’s drive the far post.
There was an oddity to a six-goal thriller without Erling Haaland scoring any, though he did register two assists. That, in turn, meant that besides adding to his lengthy list of goals against Guardiola’s City, Son scored for them, cancelling out his opener. When Haaland flicked on an Alvarez free kick, the ball flew off the Tottenham captain’s knee and past Vicario.
City’s second suggested a difference in class that could have proved painful for Tottenham. There was slick, quick passing involving Haaland and Doku before Alvarez spun to find the unmarked Phil Foden for a simple finish.
Yet Spurs came back. Doku’s departure, seemingly injured, brought Jack Grealish’s introduction and he got a belated first goal of the season from Haaland’s cutback. Surely this time City would hold on? Kulusevski had other ideas, scoring away to the champions for a third successive season. And Postecoglou, the manager whom Guardiola had first praised when he plied his trade in Japan, had held him in the Premier League.