Funny how a game can stay scoreless for more than 80 minutes and not for one instant did the thought cross my mind that we could win this game. Such was their dominance. And such, it must be said, was our passivity and incompetence. I cannot be critical of Ryan Mason, who had to play the cards he was dealt. Tanguy must have been hurt and Bale could never go a full 90 minutes, so why not preserve him for the final stretch of what was a level game. But somehow I think Jose, for all his faults, might have had a different notion of how we might actually attempt to score a goal. But no matter. The outcome would still have been the same.
As for the particulars, I would say that generally, we defended well. Alderweireld and Dier both had solid games in the middle. Aurier of course had his hands full with Sterling and committed the one stupid foul that led directly to the goal. But he didn’t have a bad game. Reguilon I thought was significantly worse—a foolish booking and some uneven play in possession. I will come back to this when I discuss the worst player on the pitch for Spurs, but I do wish there had been more overlapping runs attempted down the left flank. Did Harry Winks really play? He barely registered. He—and others—did make a couple of good tackles but they were always followed by a weak pass or a City interception and possession flipped again.
Late in the second half he made a particularly bad pass swinging the ball too high to Aurier on one of our infrequent attempts to threaten their goal. Hojgberg had a few rough patches but did what he does—which unfortunately is never going to be enough to beat a team with this much quality. His poor pass toward Reguilon—but really just open space achieving nothing—was a sad statement about just how bad we were throughout the game when we finally did get a chance to counter. Lo Celso was, once again, pretty up and down—the passes and the movement is simply not precise enough to make him an important force in the middle. Lucas had a couple of decent runs cut off by City fouls or decent defending. Kane did all that was asked even though he clearly wasn’t at 100 percent—but in a Number 10 role, he constantly picked out the right target to direct a pass to, and was generally unerring in those efforts. Bale, Sissoko, Bergwijn and Dele simply had little impact in the waning minutes—but for Sissoko’s one big mistake which is a perfect capstone to a miserable season for the Frenchman, allowing Laporte room to make the winning header.
Which gets me to my unquestioned worst player on the pitch. Heung-min Son was borderline hopeless yesterday. He made several poor or badly weighted passes when we were moving forward. He rarely if ever closes a player down and produces a tackle or pressure to help us regain possession. And his passivity with the ball on the left flank is stunning for its ubiquity. He kills our breaks over and over again. He never once tried to challenge his defender by moving outside to the left. I wish Reguilon might have tried to overlap for at least there we might have been able to have a semblance of an opportunity to score. Son kills the movement, kills the pace, and kills the spirit by simply passing the ball backward to a midfielder who then does little or nothing because he is probably not capable of more. Son is. But he won’t do it. This may be overly harsh but of the two, I’d much rather we sell him this summer than Kane—I simply think his skill set is too limited and once opponents learned to mark him properly on a break, he disappears into the background far too often.
As for the Man City press, hats off. They simply made it next to impossible in that first hour or so for us to do anything but try to go over the top. I would get angry at the number of times Sky cut away to a replay once City had missed another shot, or Lloris (who was brilliant—it must be said) made another save—but then realized the alternative was showing us looping another long ball to midfield and losing possession. They are too good, and by comparison, we are Burnley or Brighton with a better centre forward. We could not move the ball out—not without Ndombele, not with our current roster. And we simply didn’t win may of the 50-50 or second balls until late in the second half.
So no fairy tale yesterday. Top four is a dwindling but still present ambition unless and until Leicester and Chelsea go unbeaten these next few weeks. Or we lose to someone we think we shouldn’t but in fact we should since all we are is average. Average against very good and yesterday’s game is what you get. As for Paul Tierney—technically Laporte should have been sent off. But the fact is that once he wasn’t booked for the initial foul on Kane, we have a butterfly effect for the rest. Presumably if booked initially that second foul never happens. Maybe Kane would have scored on that break. Maybe somehow a miracle would have occurred. But our miracle business stopped in Amsterdam two years ago. The rebuild now begins.
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