Tottenham’s 1-0 win vs Manchester City gifts them a slender lead ahead of next week’s UCL QF return leg. Who excelled, and who struggled?
Heung Min-Son‘s 18th goal of the campaign was enough as Tottenham earned a valuable one-goal advantage against a lacklustre Manchester City display during the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
Sergio Aguero stepped up but had his spot-kick thwarted by an excellent Hugo Lloris stop, keeping the scores level and prompting the game to burst into life. Tottenham were forced into a substitution ten minutes after the restart, as talisman Harry Kane went hobbling off down the tunnel in agony having come worse off during a 50/50 challenge with Fabian Delph.
Delph, making his fifth appearance of 2019, undid all of his previous good work dramatically as Tottenham broke the deadlock after 77 minutes. Christian Eriksen spotted an unmarked Son and after his probing pass, Delph stopped playing momentarily – believing the ball had strayed off the pitch.
Rather than playing to the whistle, he gave Son precisely the time and space needed to ignore his eventual challenge before slamming a powerful low effort through Ederson’s legs to break the deadlock. With all of that in mind, here’s a look at five hits and flops from an enthralling affair in north London:
#5 Flop: Sergio Aguero
By his own high standards, this was a poor showing from Aguero – although it’s not particularly surprising after being sidelined for two games with a muscle injury.
City didn’t create many clear-cut opportunities despite retaining possession well for the most part and Aguero missed the visitors’ best chance of the night from the spot. Telegraphing his penalty with his subtle right-sided body position gave Lloris a better chance at saving the effort, though it wasn’t a good attempt from the Argentine either.
He showed his quality in flashes, particularly with regards to close-control and being able to drift past opponents’ challenges at ease sometimes. But from the half-chances he did create, they were wide of Lloris’ goal and he failed to truly test the Frenchman.
Briefly turning creator only to see Sterling thwarted by Lloris early in the second-half, he dropped increasingly deeper to pick up the ball and City needed fresh impetus. Pep’s decision to replace him after 70 minutes was brave but equally wise, with a number of important fixtures to prepare for over the next month, the last thing he needs is Aguero aggravating his recent injury problems.
#4 Hit: Toby Alderweireld
Alderweireld has had a string of average displays over the past two months but against top opposition when it matters most, always knows when to step it up a gear. After his influential performances against Borussia Dortmund in the last-16, he has followed it up with another impressive display vs. a dangerous City side.
They struggled to get Aguero involved as much as his ability warrants, which is more to do with the Belgian’s presence at the heart of Tottenham’s backline than anything else. His positional awareness and defensive nous were tested, but he prevailed with flying colours as the Belgian’s match statistics reiterate: five clearances, two aerial duels and tackles completed, one block and interception to go with no fouls committed.
Having turned 30 last month and with much more to give, the £25m release clause in his existing Spurs deal is one that many top sides will be looking to activate this summer, not least when he excels during matches like these.
#3 Flop: Nicolas Otamendi
Stats can be deceiving. Otamendi completed three tackles, interceptions, won five aerial duels and made seven clearances on a night where City lost their first match since January 29 away at Newcastle. So why is he a flop here?
The experienced Argentine didn’t exactly cover himself in glory and while he was heavily involved defensively, many of his actions were either recovery challenges or reacting to a mistake out of possession.
He struggled to cope with the combination play of Harry Kane and Dele Alli, which at its worst saw the latter leave him for dead after a brilliant pirouette – while he was also lucky not to have been booked for a succession of fouls (3, joint game-high). The fouls themselves were cynical and often needless having lost out in duels, while Otamendi’s disciplinary record hasn’t improved much since arriving from Valencia in 2016.
It would have seen him miss the return leg in Manchester and with John Stones among the substitutes’ bench on this occasion, the Englishman will be quietly hoping Otamendi’s nervy display grants him an opportunity to regain his starting berth after injury problems.
#2 Hit: Aymeric Laporte
While Otamendi faltered, Laporte quietly shone as Manchester City’s best defender again on this occasion. It’s something the Frenchman has done regularly this term and performing by example is exactly the approach Pep wants his players to adopt.
Tottenham’s high pressing tactic ruffled feathers early on but Ederson and Laporte were unfazed to say the least, even with many around them panicking upon occasion. It became apparent soon afterwards that this wasn’t the type of game that Laporte could afford to coast through: he needed to remain alert and ready to cut out Spurs attacks in their tracks.
Just like against Brighton on Saturday, he thrived in the role as the hosts’ kryptonite. They relished running against Otamendi and taking turns trying to outsmart him, but Laporte often stood firm and regularly made interventions to keep them at bay from his side.
Naturally, he wasn’t without fault either but unlike his centre-back partner, he didn’t flinch nor make needless mistakes to gift Spurs renewed hope in their attempts to break the deadlock. Two aerial duels won, one tackle and block to go alongside a game-high nine clearances – he battled hard against Dele Alli and impressed when called upon, even with a booking to his name for an hour.
#1 Hit: Heung-Min Son
The Alli-Kane combination play was encouraging in flashes, while Eriksen showed his class when called upon too. However their best performer on a memorable evening was Heung-Min Son once again.
The South Korean forward scored the first during their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace last Monday and after five games without, now has two goals in two matches for Spurs. He’s returning to top form at precisely the right time – not least now that Kane is reportedly sidelined for the remainder of this campaign.
His infectious pressing was on display as City struggled to establish their regular attacking rhythm, while he chiselled away at a vulnerable Fabian Delph before earning his reward with a smart finish to turn matchwinner in arguably the biggest game of their campaign to date.
The spatial awareness to give Eriksen an unmarked option out wide, to the agility and balance required to keep the ball in play, his goal typified the never-say-die attitude he plays with. Questions will be asked of Ederson after failing to save the strike at his near post having squirmed through his legs, but it was a deft finish from the 26-year-old – who fired low and hard from a difficult angle to prove once more why he’s one of Tottenham’s key players.
With 88.9% pass accuracy, two tackles and interceptions to accompany 36 touches – the lowest tally of any player who featured for the full 90 minutes – it goes to show Son doesn’t need the ball at his feet to thrive or prove a nuisance for opposition defenders.
Stats’ source: WhoScored