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Man City v Spurs, 24.11.13

(1.30 PM)

Navas, 1, 90
Sandro (o.g.), 34
Aguero, 41, 50
Negredo, 55

Attendance:- 47,228

Referee:- Howard Webb (not Martin Atkinson as published)
Assistants:- Mr. M. Mullarkey & Mr. D. Cann
Fourth official:- Mr. M. Jones

Man City (4-2-3-1):- Pantilimon; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Nastasic (sub Lescott, 46), Clichy; Toure (Capt.), Fernandinho; Navas (sub Milner, 77), Aguero, Nasri; Negredo (sub Garcia, 69)

Subs not used:- Hart; Richards; Guidetti; Dzeko

Booked:- Toure (foul on Holtby)

Spurs (4-1-4-1):- Lloris; Walker, Dawson (Capt.), Kaboul, Vertonghen; Sandro; Lennon, Paulinho (sub Dembele, 61), Holtby (sub Adebayor, 46), Lamela; Soldado (sub Sigurdsson, 61)

Subs not used:- Friedel; Chiriches; Townsend; Defoe

Booked:- Sandro (foul on Aguero), Vertonghen (foul on Zabaleta), Walker (blocking free kick)

AVB on borrowed time

The wave of optimism that was associated with Tottenham at the start of the season has descended into a tsunami of depression, and one of anger. Anger that we have lost by our biggest margin since Gerry Francis’s Spurs lost 7-1 at Newcastle in December, 1996; anger that we conceded as many goals in one game as we had conceded in the previous 11 games; anger that we lost 6-0; and anger that once again we will be also-rans in the Premier League despite spending £105 million in the summer.

I’ll admit to liking the team selection, with Aaron Lennon starting at right wing, in place of Andros Townsend. It looked as if Paulinho would be next to Sandro in front of the defence, with Lewis Holtby in the middle of the attacking midfield three. It didn’t turn out that way, with Sandro on his own in front of the defence, and Paulinho definitely part of an attacking midfield four, which included Erik Lamela, making his first Premier League start from the left wing.

Any optimism about Spurs chances disappeared within only 14 seconds of the start. Spurs kicked off and passed the ball backwards all the way to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. That makes me angry. Lloris presented a gift of a ball to danger man Sergio Aguero, who fired a rasping shot, parried by Lloris, but into the path of Jesus Navas, who cleverly chipped the ball over Lloris into his net to his right. Spurs fans cried “Jesus” for different reasons, and any Spurs game plan was out of the window from the start.

The fact that over the course of the game Spurs enjoyed (I use the term “enjoyed” in its loosest sense) more possession, and nearly as many shots as City only serves to tell how little use statistics are when telling the story of any game. Spurs did attack City in the spell which followed the goal. Of that, there is no doubt, but as I tweeted, I do feel that AVB’s new game plan was naïve, in the sense that this was surely a game when stout defence was required, and from all areas of the pitch. It seemed to me that our full backs were often over-committed, with Sandro and the two centre-backs having to try and hold the fort at times. I also did not see any evidence of us trying to play the famous high line that has so often preserved our clean sheets. In the face of marauding and skilful attacking players such as Ageuro, Negredo, and just about any City player you dare to mention, Dawson and Kaboul were like rabbits caught in the headlights too often.

Spurs did construct an attack through Walker and Lennon down the right, with Walker hitting a low cross across the area. Soldado fired back across goal, but Demichelis cleared off the line. It turned out that City certainly would not be missing their captain Kompany at the back, and David Silva in attack. Lloris actually made a very good save after 6 minutes from an Aguero effort, following a City move from the left, with no Spurs challenge. City wanted a penalty when Nasri went down in the box, following Kaboul’s challenge, after Negredo’s pass. Referee Howard Webb (standing in for the published referee Martin Atkinson) waved away the appeal.

The partisan City crowd were baying for more.

Spurs had another effort on goal, with Paulinho, Lennon and Holtby involved. Holtby hit a final shot which took a deflection and then saw a Spurs player called offside. Spurs had a free kick touched by Holtby to Vertonghen, whose low shot was saved near the post by Joe Hart’s replacement Pantilimon.

After a City corner, Kyle Walker claimed the ball on the left of the Spurs area, and led a counter-attack with a long ball which Soldado took on, trying a low shot which passed Pantilimon’s right post. After a corner won by Aaron Lennon, Lamela had a shot from the back post which passed wide. Vertonghen had a good run into the box and won another corner with his shot being saved. At this stage, City fans were not so comfortable, and Spurs fans were quite pleased with what they were seeing.

It was all to change very soon, and all to go horribly wrong. Spurs hate-figure Nasri ( a cocky ex-gooner, if ever there was one) crossed from the left. For me there was a hint of handball by Aguero in controlling the ball, but he hit a shot which Lloris saved. Negredo followed up, and all that Kaboul and Sandro could unwittingly do was help the ball into the net. It went down as a Sandro own goal. Seven minutes later, Spurs were three down and it was all over. Navas was given free range down the City right flank, with Lamela offering no support for Vertonghen, who seemed stranded. Navas’s cross was easily converted by Aguero inside Lloris’s right post.

Lamela fed a pass to Paulinho who fired well wide of the mark. Toure got a deserved yellow for hauling down Lewis Holtby in the Spurs half. Holtby did escape the nightmare at half-time as Emmanuel Adebayor made his first appearance of the season, and AVB tried a bit of 4-4-2 with Soldado behind Adebayor. Spurs had composed nothing though, before going 4-0 down. Yaya Toure set off on a Usain Bolt-style run from his own half, exchanging with Negredo, before accelerating onward, with Walker trying and failing to catch his coat-tails. When Toure fed Aguero, the finish was a formality, and the Argentine had scored more goals so far this season than Spurs have managed in league football. We haven’t managed a goal for three league games now, and we haven’t managed a decent win since at Villa Park over a month ago.

Nasri hit a cross/shot from the left which beat Lloris and rebounded off the bar. In the 55th minute, Negredo left Michael Dawson literally on the floor with a clever turn and scored with a fine shot. Once again, the lion-hearted Dawson has been exposed at such a high level of football.

AVB abandoned the 4-4-2 plan, replacing Soldado with Sigurdsson and Paulinho with Dembele, who did soon force a good save from Pantilimon with a decent left foot shot. At the other end, Lloris made a good save from Navas, and that, dear reader, is when this observer left for a clean escape from the City of Manchester. I didn’t stay in the ground back in December 1997, when Chelsea put 6 past us at White Hart Lane, and I was not going to stay for this one, when Navas did add a sixth goal in the closing stages following a Milner pass.

Thus, by my own rules, I am not permitted to offer grades in the Spurs Odyssey post-match survey. Plenty of others did suffer the full 90 minutes though, and the results are not surprising.(See the exclusive "Spursometer")

The City programme always manages to focus on one game from the past, when they have given Spurs a good beating. This time it was October 1994 and 5-2. This game will feature in years to come. “Comedian” Jason Manford sang what he called the National Anthem (“Blue Moon”) before the game. Manford, who left the BBC’s One Show three years ago following a sexting scandal was also interviewed at half-time. I wonder if he was at Maine Road, when City were a third division club fourteen years ago. The banner in The Etihad Stadium says it all really (“The City of Manchester thanks you Sheik Mansour”).

It is truly sickening really to see City fans handed all this joy and success on a plate. Spurs, of course have spent plenty of money in the summer. The question of whether they have bought the right talent and whether they have the right coach to make use of that talent remains to be resolved. Personally, I feel that Andre Villas-Boas is on borrowed time.

Spurs now travel to the Arctic Circle to play Tromso in the Europa League, in which they can win games and excel. I can’t see them beating Manchester United next Sunday lunch-time. Even Newcastle are above us now.

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