Somewhere near the hour mark, when City seemed to be inexorably bending the game to their will, a friend texted “seems like a 1-0 City to me”. To which I replied “yes, but if anyone could score a goal for us it will be Son.” And like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, I say the words and there it is happening on my screen. I can’t fathom for a minute what this means. That we have a win and deprived the best team in Europe of an away goal. That we are so knackered (let alone the big injury concern) I seriously worry about Poch’s selection against Huddersfield this weekend. That five of our last six victories have now come with our best player off the pitch.
All I do know is that the effort was extraordinary. After the VAR near-disaster early in the game (technically, a correct call. But when no one sees it, and the other side doesn’t demand it, has that particular tree really fallen in the VAR forest?) our press and effort made us the better side. A couple of good chances fell wanting, though and while we were bossing the midfield, City stiffened in the back and Ederson gave out the feeling he would never be beaten. But our defenders were near impeccable. Jan and Toby were superb and Danny Rose, after the fright with the penalty, had a fantastic game at both ends of the pitch. And despite facing Raheem Sterling most of the night, Kieran Trippier enjoyed his best game in months. And Lloris—the embattled Captain—simply saved the game with a nicely anticipated move against Aguero.
The midfield of Winks, Sissoko and Eriksen was sublime—the difference in the squad of Winks is instantly noticeable. This was Eriksen’s best game in many a moon—he was active, creative and nearly produced several excellent chances. His kicks were the only complaint. And as for Sissoko, I don’t know what else to say. The man is immense—day in and day out. Stopping attacks, making tackles, collecting the ball, flicking the ball forward, rarely making an error. My admiration grows by the minute. Upfront Kane was having an excellent game, holding defenders like Otamendi and Laporte off, getting the better of Fernandinho. He almost scored on the turn around shot after Dele had been fouled but the referee played advantage. Dele can only be faulted for finishing and one lazy effort on a break just before Son’s goal. And Son made a simply brilliant double move keeping possession and then turning with his left for a shot through a defender and Ederson.
Poch got the tactics right, though Pep was a willing accomplice. One sensed that he would be happy with 0-0 or nicking it by a goal, but now he has a conundrum. Playing Spurs when you need at least two goals may require the type of open play that could spring Son, Lucas or Dele free for the away goal that could win this for Spurs.
And as for Kane. My first thought—and I don’t blame Delph no matter what Poch said to him—Kane seemed to be the aggressor—was that we might be done in both competitions. We simply don’t have the depth to continue a dual march. Yet the immediate game is the worst team in the league—and then no matter the outcome at the Etihad next week, we must go back there three days later when they are the deeper side and want to win the league. Maybe if we lose the second leg, they won’t care so much. Maybe if we do, they’ll want instant revenge. My head hurts from the permutations. All I know is that the stadium we waited so long for has already presented us with a glorious European night. Anything is possible. No matter what happens the next month, we will always have North London.
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