Manchester City: Reasons to be hopeful, not disappointed

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

Manchester City ended up drawing 2-2 against Spurs, a team they completely dominated, with a stonewall penalty denied being the turning point in the game. Despite this, there’s much to be hopeful for.

While every sports fan enjoys a good moan about the adjudication, particularly if his team/player of choice came out second best, none more so than the football fan. You’ve got your fairly standard heckles, you know, calling into question the referee’s parent’s marital status at the time of his conception, that sort of thing. Then you’ve got a whole raft of songs, many quite inventive and often personalized to a particularly infamous official or one who just happens to have the misfortune to no longer have any hair left.

The burden on referees can blow hot and cold. Some days little happens, other days decisions don’t really matter, I’m sure it can all get just a touch boring doing nothing out there. Then there’s that one game where one single decision can influence the game, the league table and millions of pounds all at the same time. Enter Andre Marriner, referee for Manchester City’s 2-2 draw with Spurs on Saturday last.

Oh you’ve heard all about the penalty-that-wasn’t by now I’m sure. Seen it a thousand times too. City’s Raheem Sterling, clear on goal, gets pushed in the box and thrown off his shot by Kyle Walker. As clear a penalty and red card as you’re probably going to get. Obvious to everyone, even those unfamiliar with the rules of football, except of course the three people who mattered: the officials. Spurs, of course, just ran up the other end of the field and scored a, seemingly offside, goal straight after. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

More from Playing for 90

Leaving that aside though, City fans probably can’t be too upset about the game despite the fact they deserved to win. Sure, it stings to have three precious points against a title rival, or top four rival as it most likely is now, taken away not because you played badly, on the contrary, or that Spurs played good, they were objectively poor, but because of officials. I get it. But here’s the rub – Manchester City looked like a force to contend with and that’s still the most surprising thing about the game.

City pinned Spurs back effortlessly in the first half, with no touches registered in the City box at all during that period. Not one. Meanwhile they launched barrage after barrage of attacks and came inches close to making Andre Marriner a footnote on multiple occasions. City had the lion’s share of possession and passes, but perhaps more clinically had a whopping 17 shots compared to Spurs’ meager 6. City made 13 key passes into goal scoring opportunities with Kevin De Bruyne alone making 4, more than every Spurs player combined.

Further, there were several stand-out performances that were quite unexpected indeed. Aleksandar Kolarov was a fortress, winning everything that came his way be it on the air or in the ground. So too Pablo Zabaleta, who alone won more aerial duels and made more successful tackles than the Spurs back four combined. This from a team with perhaps the most porous defence in the top six is quite a feat indeed.

Beyond that however, Citizens will take hope from the youth on display at the Etihad. Young Gabriel Jesus comes on for his debut 8 minutes from time and is an instant sensation, nearly assisting a goal and scoring albeit the now, mysteriously eagle-eyed referee’s assistant flagging the latter for offside. Leroy Sane caused Tottenham no end of problems all night, opening the scoring just as he did against their cross-city rivals a few weeks ago. Both showed pace, skill and electric stuff beyond their years and are but a taster of what’s yet to come in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

You see, for City, it was never a win-now pick to bring in Guardiola. Indeed, the club had wanted him for years and planned extensively for the day he would leave Bayern Munich to ensure they got their man. Even so, it was always a long-term project of renewal and transformation through development. Barcelona’s youth system, full of the world’s most precocious talent, was the hope and decades of dominance in the long run favoured over a quick fix title.

Yet sacrifices had to be made. City found themselves stuck with aging stars, 5 of the starting 11 against Spurs played in City’s title winning game against QPR in May 2012, who were on high wages that other clubs simply couldn’t meet with yet one finally year left on their contracts. So they stayed and Pep’s hands were tied. Here we are today.

Next: Manchester City 2 - Spurs 2: 5 Talking Points

No excuses from Pep though, victory is the only thing good enough and, though we all wondered how Andre Marriner fell asleep with all those lights on at the Etihad, Pep was right when he suggested that City had every opportunity to put the game and the referee to bed long before. One thing is for sure, more people are waking up to what is happening at City and, for the fans, even in disappointment there’s much to be excited about.