A day, quite simply, when a much shrewder Jose Mourinho did a number on Pep Guardiola.
If this match was supposed to be a final test of Tottenham Hotspur’s title credentials, it confirmed so much more than that. Their eventual 2-0 win over Manchester City put them back on top of the table – at least temporarily – and showed the team is only going in one direction. That is whatever direction Mourinho tells them, as they are so clearly focused and committed to his current approach.
By contrast, City looked a much more disparate outfit, as they remain adrift at 10th in the table. Guardiola’s new contract did not offer the immediate jolt the team needed. There was no energy to their play at all. It was all so much flatter than the great Guardiola sides we’re used to. They don’t look a team to fear any more.
From there, Mourinho just did what was obvious, but still displayed absolute focus. He told his side to let City have all the sterile possession they wanted, and pounce the minute they lost it. This happened last season, and it happened again and again here.
If Guardiola is going to struggle to rediscover his team’s old relentlessness, this could end up like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger in the latter years, where there’s an obvious blueprint to playing them.
City don’t seem to have the solutions. They don’t currently have the attack, or the defence. Guardiola’s side have now only hit 10 goals in eight games, and haven’t scored more than once in a Premier League match since September. By contrast, it’s more than two a game for Spurs.
Who could have imagined that over the last few years of what was developing into a rather one-sided rivalry? Mourinho has started to turn that on its head, just as he has turned Spurs into challengers.
The game was really won from those first few minutes.
Son Heung-Min’s opening goal was not just the decisive moment, but a defining one, given what it said about both sides.
It was of course so simply taken, to the point there was so little to it, but there was so much wrapped up in that.
On one side, there was the resurgence of Tanguy N’Dombele. His ball through may have been easy, but there was real craft to his delivery. This is a player, let’s not forget, who looked doomed under Mourinho; as if the manager just wasn’t going to ever have him. He is now on supreme form.
You can’t quite say the same for City’s backline.
Both Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias are two centre-halves of the highest standards, but this was defending of the lowest standard. It was staggering how easy it was for one Harry Kane run to completely unravel the back four, dragging Laporte away so Son could finish.
That was £121m worth of centre-halves allowing a gap that big.
There is a wider point there, which might well be that the manager’s structure of the defence is now almost as influential than the quality they bring in. The same problems seem to persist regardless of who is in the defence, and they are also issues for Guardiola that long precede his time at City.
The game was almost perfectly set up for Spurs then.
All they had to do was sit back against a team that hadn’t scored more than one goal in a league game since September, and burst with a counter-attack that had more than two a game.
That did still require some real concentration, and commitment, mind. This was best typified by Toby Alderweireld, who offered a series of full-blooded challenges just when City looked like breaking through.
One, on Gabriel Jesus shortly after the Son goal, was utterly vintage defending.
This was where the real questions came in about City’s attack.
It was so often as if they were trying to do everything that you would associate with Guardiola’s greatest triumphs, but with so much less intensity. You could see the patterns, but couldn’t see the effects. It was the same principles of play, but different principles of application.
One of the few exceptions was Kevin De Bruyne, but he can’t do it all on his own.
And it was indicative that, just when the Belgian was beginning to exert his influence, Mourinho did that to a greater degree.
The Spurs manager had clearly noticed the game was swinging, so swung it back, with a key substitution.
Giovani Lo Celso was brought on to steady things, and keep control, but not even Mourinho could have thought that would extend to the scoreline as much as the play. With his first touches, the Argentine won the game. City, meanwhile, again just lost concentration.
In response, the deposed champions had nothing. They drew another blank.
There was meanwhile just a blank look on Guardiola’s face, as he could be seen staring into space on the bench in those futile final minutes.
None of that with Spurs. They were full of emotion, and ultimately took full points.
This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League. Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri – Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.