Heung Min-Son’s 18th goal of the campaign was enough as Tottenham earned a valuable but slender one-goal advantage against a lacklustre Manchester City display during the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
In the first European fixture at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, both sides battled hard during a frenetic affair – but City failed to create many chances of note.
The one golden chance presented to them came after VAR review, as Danny Rose was adjudged to have handled Raheem Sterling’s strike in the box. Sergio Aguero took the responsibility but telegraphed his effort, allowing Hugo Lloris to make an excellent stop and keep the scores level after 12 minutes.
Lloris’ penalty save proves vital in frenetic affair
After a thunderous roar from the home crowd, you could sense doubt creeping into City minds and as the game burst into life, things were quickly put in perspective. Pep Guardiola’s team selection was interesting to say the least: Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane – both key players – were among the substitutes’ bench. Bernardo Silva (thigh) wasn’t involved altogether.
Their issues at fullback saw Fabian Delph start at left-back, while the inconsistent Riyad Mahrez made a surprise start on the right side of an attacking trio with Raheem Sterling and the returning Aguero.
Delph has struggled for regular minutes this term but enjoyed an effective start defensively alongside Aymeric Laporte as Spurs pushed forward in numbers – Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane combining with patient build-up play.
Kane forced an important stop from Ederson after an excellent Alli pirouette left Nicolas Otamendi desperately scrambling to recover in the box. Buoyed by his deft skill, Alli dispossessed Laporte before winning a free-kick in a dangerous area. Harry Winks’ eventual effort flashed high and wide, but Tottenham were growing in confidence.
Christian Eriksen spraying some excellent passes, Otamendi looking characteristically nervy at the back with the Alli-Kane combination play tough to defend against, City needed to be alert defensively before the interval with the scores still level.
With Aguero feeding off half-chances and unable to test Lloris, he turned creator early in the second 45 with a deft pass into Sterling’s path.
Lloris was equal to the Englishman’s effort, but it was a necessary warning sign that Spurs needed to take advantage themselves – as City could score at will even without dominating the game. Laporte was called into action with an important defensive intervention, before Son watched his speculative effort curl narrowly wide of Ederson’s far post.
tottenham suffer blow as Kane’s ankle injury resurfaces
Tottenham were forced into a substitution ten minutes after the restart, with perhaps the one player they didn’t want to see hobbling off down the tunnel in agony: Harry Kane.
He sustained an ankle injury on the touchline after a forceful 50/50 challenge with Delph, who was first to the ball but followed through on his compatriot – which left Pochettino visibly angry given Kane’s injury struggles.
Lucas Moura replaced him and despite offering fresh attacking impetus, it was more about City’s wastefulness than Tottenham in truth.
City lack cutting edge despite dominating possession
Sterling glided beyond four players before opting to pass, rather than shoot, teeing up an offside David Silva – typifying the visitors’ struggles in the final third.
They were dominating possession (61%) but with Spurs’ pressing tactic, didn’t have anyone able to constantly break the lines in midfield. Kevin de Bruyne meanwhile, was still warming up rigorously on the sidelines. With just over 20 minutes to play, Gabriel Jesus replaced a quiet Aguero – who continued dropping deep and had to make the most of limited service.
Delph undid all of his good work in dramatic fashion as Tottenham took the lead after 77 minutes. Eriksen spotted an unmarked Son on the right, feeding through a probing pass towards the South Korean’s path.
Delph frantically waved his arms as he and a few other City players believed Son strayed off the pitch with the ball, but instead of playing to the whistle, momentarily stopped. It was precisely all Son needed to ignore his eventual challenge before slotting a powerful low effort through Ederson’s legs to break the deadlock.
Sane and de Bruyne, who had been warming up furiously for most of the second-half were finally introduced. With one minute plus stoppages to play.
It was a bizarre decision by Pep, who post-match revealed his choice was motivated by tactics – even though it was obvious City lacked their cutting edge, something both players provided in a brief cameo.
Pochettino and his players won’t mind at all, especially with an important win in the bank now. They know the Champions League semi-final berth is still 90 minutes away and travel to Manchester for the second leg next week, which will test their laurels – not least without talisman Kane.