Dove Magazine

Kevin De Bruyne and lavish Manchester City left chasing Tottenham’s shadows

There was a lovely, improbable moment in stoppage time at White Hart Lane, a five-second outbreak of unicorn football begun by Clinton N’Jie’s nifty spin inside Aleksandar Kolarov, followed by a lovely little snap of passes between Tom Carroll, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli.

Manchester City

‘There are some high grade component parts in this team, but currently they seem just a little misaligned.’ Photograph: Tony O’Brien/Reuters

Suddenly, in the dreamy last knockings of an extraordinary match, four young English players were nipping the ball around in between City’s rumbling defensive hulks Martín Demichelis and Nicolás Otamendi.

It was a moment that may well point nowhere at all in what is already the most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, no more than a cheerful little rainbow in the fading light of this 4-1 Spurs victory in front of a gleefully disbelieving home crowd.

But it was entirely in keeping with a game crammed full of unexpected moments, not least the departure of Érik Lamela to a standing ovation, having utterly overshadowed Raheem Sterling on his flank, showing the usual sublime touch and lateral spring but playing always with his head up and looking the best attacking player on the pitch. Do not adjust your television set. This is not a fault.

For all Tottenham’s vim and energy, and notwithstanding some terrible offside calls, the other side of this victory is City’s equally extraordinary tailing off in the past two weeks, a run of three defeats in four that has centred on two key failings.

With great expenditure on attacking midfield talents comes great responsibility, too, and clearly Manuel Pellegrini has yet to work out how to get the best from what he has going forward. The drive this season has been towards a wider spread of influence, those bolt-on attacking parts sparking and firing to take some of the weight from the old hands of the new City era.

Here City saw the best and worst of Kevin De Bruyne in the first half, a pointer both in the goal they scored and the one they conceded towards how they might look to use this highly specialised attacking player. After the midweek Capital One Cup victory there had been talk about the interplay between De Bruyne and Sterling, suggestions of a burgeoning Bruy-mance between City’s combined £100m men.

De Bruyne, though, succeeded at Wolfsburg playing mainly as a No10 behind the striker, and more specifically as a brilliant exponent of the counter-attack, most memorably in overseeing one thrilling, fast-breaking 4-1 defeat of Bayern Munich. City’s opening goal here was cut straight from the De Bruyne-Wolfsbug songbook as Yaya Touré carried the ball 40 yards before feeding De Bruyne with a lovely delayed pass (his knee was offside, but not spotted). The finish was instant and perfectly placed low into the corner.

Spurs’ equaliser was deserved, coming at time when they had begun to press back into the game. But it also showed the other side of De Bruyne, a player who once spoke of “losing his joy” at Chelsea, perhaps in part on account of the defensive shift José Mourinho demands of his attacking midfielders.

Mourinho, who is, we must assume, and unless otherwise stated, always cackling quietly to himself, will no doubt have cackled quietly to himself twice over at the sight of De Bruyne playing a horrible casual pass out of his own area that became an assist for Dier’s equaliser, the ball skimming and swerving into the corner watched by a mildly curious Willy Caballero.

Kyle Walker was two yards offside in the buildup, but for Pellegrini the greater concern will be De Bruyne’s carelessness having looked up and seen Fernandinho ready for the ball a moment earlier.

Perhaps the Brazilian should have expected the pass and not turned his back. Perhaps De Bruyne was simply making the kind of high risk pass – and the kind of mistake – that belongs in the kind of areas he plays in more naturally.

Either way, it was a glimpse of rare passing fallibility from a player shuffled to the right wing when perhaps the No10 position, occupied here by Touré with mixed results, is a more natural fit.

Beyond this City were guilty of a familiar failing, the inability to reorganise and adjust, to find a second wind in adversity. From the moment Spurs equalised they simply stood still. There was no surge, no flexing of the shoulders, simply a kind of shared congealing.

Fernandinho had been the best player on the pitch in the opening half hour, passing the ball with purpose and generally striding about like a ship’s captain, simultaneously stoking the engines, manning the bridge and cooking the evening gruel. Fernando was unable to respond to his example.

If Dier and Alli had looked a little outclassed at first they dug in for a while, Dier in particular a stirring physical presence, and by the end had comfortably wrested control of midfield. The fourth goal was made by a superb covering challenge by Dier, and celebrated by him as though he had actually scored it.

In fairness, Sergio Agüero still looks to be carrying the unscabbed wounds of Scott Dann’s horrible challenge at Crystal Palace. But otherwise Spurs’ speed and relentless energy here was too much for decelerating opponents for whom Demichelis, Otamendi and Caballero provided a ponderous all‑Argentine back three with a combined age of 94.

City simply failed to respond here. This the challenge now. There are some high grade component parts in this team, but currently they seem just a little misaligned. – the guardian-

 

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