When it has mattered, defeats against the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton have played an enormous part in condemning City to the position where they stand at present. Combined with valuable points dropped through draws in games against Southampton and Middlesbrough that City should probably have secured all three points, during a season of very fine margins and little to no slip-up’s from fellow title competing sides in the first half of the season, any chances of Pep Guardiola winning the Premier League in his first season in Manchester look incredibly slim. Therefore Saturday’s teatime tie against a high-flying Tottenham Hotspur looked set to be a further reminder of either how good Pep’s side can be at their very best or even more strikingly at the amount of work that remains and the size of the task at hand for the new City boss – all depending of course on which Manchester City turned up on the day. Unlike the club’s disappointing home defeat to league leaders Chelsea back in December, thankfully Saturday’s stalemate with Tottenham Hotspur provided some much needed reassurance for most City supporters. In spite of the club’s inconsistent league form this season, a 2-2 draw against Mauricio Pochettino’s side who before yesterday’s game had won five consecutive league fixtures would not only have been a score line many City fans would have taken before the game but after the way the game panned out may even be now seen as a missed opportunity to get back into the top four with an important victory over one of City’s closest title rivals.
No matter what way you look at it however, a point against Tottenham Hotspur can be still be seen as a good result on paper when the club looks back at its performance throughout the season – most notably in comparison with the same fixture in the 2015/16 season which City lost 2-1 at the Etihad. A poignant point and much needed pick me up for involved with the club after a disappointing couple of defeats against Merseyside opposition – even if the difference in points and goal difference with fellow title contenders remains significant. Besides as well as a learning curb for some of the club’s younger players involved in the game and watching from the sidelines, for City fans it also allows us to understand Pep’s mentality in the games where it matters. With this in mind City here are five major talking points from Saturday’s clash and things we have learned from the 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium.
The boy Leroy HAS to start more often
As the cold air and snow brought parts of the country to a standstill in the past week, Leroy Sané’s re-introduction to the Manchester City starting XI was a much needed breath of fresh air after perhaps producing his best performance yet in a City shirt. After recently turning 21 years of age in the past fortnight, although the German winger has had to wait just over a month for his next Premier League start after scoring in City’s 2-1 home victory over Arsenal back in December he made sure to make the most of the opportunity and impressed in Saturday’s fixture. With Raheem Sterling operating the left wing, Leroy Sané always looked a threat down the right channel and it was his goal which opened the scoring straight after the break as City looked to take control of the game.
As Sané’s confidence continued to grow after the goal, his influence became more and more visible – wanting the ball and confidently taking on one of the Premier League’s best defensive lines in the past two seasons. Despite not ending up with the same outcome as Leroy’s last game in a Manchester City shirt, individually you could say that Sané was man of the match and is starting to show the reasons why City invested so much of their money in the promising youngster. With 67% passing accuracy, 7 headers won and 2 shots on goal, the 21 year old’s stats are impressive in a game of such magnitude and after starting in many of the club’s most important league games this season (Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton), Sané could play a big part in the club’s future success this season if he starts more often for Manchester City, not just in games where his blistering pace may take bigger clubs by surprise. With a few tweaks and a bit more fine tuning on the training ground under Pep Guardiola, Sané has the makings of one of the best wingers in world football for the next decade and you would think (or at least hope) that under the former Barcelona manager’s guidance he can turn what is only potential at the moment, into a reality.
Short but incredibly sweet – Gabriel Jesus is here
With all the paperwork submitted at long last, Gabriel Jesus was finally announced as a Manchester City player after what seemed like forever in the announcement of his transfer from Brazilian side Palmeiras. Recent posts on social media appeared to show that Jesus was as eager as many City fans to take to the pitch in the club’s colours after a video appeared mid-week of the 19 year old chanting ‘Come on City’ but the question remained whether it would be against Tottenham or possibly after with concerns over his fitness now the only obstacle stopping the Brazilian forward from making his long-awaited debut. After Pep Guardiola delivered on his pre-match press conference promise that Jesus would at least be in the squad for the weekend’s game, Tottenham’s equaliser set the stage for the one of the club’s most hyped young players for many a season to come on and make a difference as City chased a late winner in a game that was there for the taking. Therefore as City pressed for a winning goal with eight minutes remaining, Jesus replaced Raheem Sterling to a rapturous applause and looked to make an instant impact.
Suddenly then what at first looked like a fairytale ending to a story which has written itself in the past year for Gabriel Jesus, Jesus headed inches wide before scoring with only a matter of minutes remaining and sent the Etihad into frenzy – only to find that his ‘match-winning’ debut goal had been ruled out for offside… A crushing blow for the young Brazilian but in the 13 minutes that he played for the club he displayed enough promise to live up to the hype and expectation that has followed his mega-money move to the club and it will be interesting to see how Pep chooses to use Jesus in the league, the FA Cup and also the Champions League in the next few months. Either way, his short cameo proved as successful as his initial audition that led to his move to Manchester and the future looks bright for the club with Gabriel Jesus very much a part of it.
Raheem Sterling can’t seem to win either way
It is often said that the life of a football referee isn’t an easy one with every decision analysed, assed and scrutinised in the front of the preying media and football fans alike. In such a high-pressure job, inevitably referees are prone to getting decisions wrong but with such fine margins in the Premier League this season, a late incident between Raheem Sterling and Spurs defender Kyle Walker and the subsequent actions of match referee Andre Marriner was always going to incense both Pep Guardiola and Manchester City fans alike as one of the main talking points in Saturday’s 2-2 draw. A matter of minutes before Tottenham Hotspur scored their second of the game and most importantly an equalising goal with less than a quarter of the game left on the clock, after Raheem Sterling had broken free from Spurs defender Kyle Walker and with only the goalkeeper to beat to send City into a 3-1 lead over Mauricio Pochettino’s side, Kyle Walker appeared to push his fellow England international in the back to prevent Sterling from scoring a game-winning goal for Guardiola’s side.
Yet rather than going down Sterling’s determination to stay on his feet and to try and get a shot on goal proved detrimental as referee Andre Marriner waved away penalty claims after Sterling’s tame shot as Lloris Consequently as well as City fans verbally frustrating their anger with boos ringing around the Etihad at another poor decision going against the club, Guardiola too raged at fourth official Mike Jones before watching Spurs go straight up the other end a minute later and equalise the game through Heung-min Son. Former Premier League referee Howard Webb as well as numerous football pundits tend to agree that Marriner got such a vital decision incorrect but Webb points to the distance between Marriner and the incident after such a quick break down the other end of the pitch. Arguably however City was good enough to win the game outright without needing such decisions but nonetheless another referring decision has cost Guardiola an important three points and the sooner there is greater consistency throughout the league when it comes to refereeing the weekend’s biggest games, the better.
What is the matter with Sergio Aguero?
Guardiola may have highlighted Sergio Aguero’s importance during Friday’s pre-match press conference by stating that Aguero not only is Aguero the club’s best striker but that ‘we have a problem with goals so we need him. What I want is the best possible for him’. With what would you then think is surely a run of goal scoring form for the Argentine forward as the best possible remedy for the club and for Aguero’s woes in-front of goal of late, Aguero remains still searching for his second goal of the calendar year and only his fourth goal since November 5th 2016. After pictures surfaced in mid-week that appeared to show the 28 year old forward enjoying an evening meal with his agent and with manager Pep Guardiola, as you would expect the papers and social media went into overdrive about an ‘unsettled’ Sergio Aguero meeting his manager for late night crisis talks in a city centre restaurant.
After Pep quickly dismissed any issues between himself and the former Atlético Madrid man, rebuffing claims Aguero is unsettled and stating that Aguero simply ‘has a lot of money and wanted to invite his coach to have dinner. That’s all’ as well as confirming that Sergio has in fact renewed his contract at the club in the past year without it being publicly announced, attention inevitably returned to Aguero’s performances on the pitch which, in stark contrast to the stories surrounding him away from playing the game itself, have been nowhere near as entertaining. In the position that Aguero currently takes up as a lone centre-forward and a style of play that is largely dictated by the club’s midfield dominating possession and carefully crafting attacks that may present very few, but perhaps more clear-cut goal scoring opportunities than say a more direct style of play may do so, of course his influence may be less felt than that of last season. However with the Argentine appearing low in confidence and equally as low on goals in the club’s past few fixtures, it does the pose question whether there is something up with Sergio and what his long-term future at the club may be.
The need for a new left-back is greater than ever before
Although it has been known for some time among the club’s supporters, the need for wholesale changes at the back appears to only have been noticed in recent weeks with an aging defensive line often held responsible for City’s problems at the back in recent weeks. Whilst some have rightly looked to the likes of Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta as prominent examples of the need for fresh life in the right-back position, the club’s 2-2 draw however further highlighted the urgent need for a new left-back with Gael Clichy once again being targeted up against both wing-back’s and wingers that are much faster than the Frenchman is at 31 years of age. After starting in City’s 2-2 weekend draw with Spurs, Gael Clichy equalled the number of starts he had made for the club throughout the whole of the 2015/16 season and with further game time this season there is no doubting Clichy will rival the 1660 minutes played during the 2013/14 season with the Frenchman already on 1085 minutes with only 22 league games played.
Although this is perhaps not a bad return for a player who is reaching the latter stages of his career in the English top-flight (at least as a regular starter in a team competing for the Premier League title), you need only look around the Premier League to see the need for good players in both full-back positions should you stand any chance of winning the league. With speed, power and agility in such positions seemingly more important than ever before, both Kolarov and Clichy would rank very in the list of the best-performing left back’s in the Premier League and whilst it may not be easy to dip into the January transfer window and bring a left-back meets the clubs’ every requirement, don’t be surprised if City undertake some much needed summer spending to address their wide, defensive problems. For this season however, with the chances of winning the Premier League title looking less and less realistic by the game, Clichy is a more than adequate performer against the majority of Premier League teams but quickly meets his match against title contenders. Kyle Walker’s performance certainly proved that there is some cause for concern at left-back and unfortunately for Clichy, he simply doesn’t have the pace or power required to be considered as City’s first-choice left-back next season.