Three things we learned from Man City vs. Tottenham

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur played out an entertaining, dramatic, controversial 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

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City were 2-0 up and flying early in the second half after mistakes from Hugo Lloris were punished by Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne but Tottenham came roaring back as Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son scored to seal a comeback draw, and amongst all that a clear push on Raheem Sterling in the box went unpunished.

Here’s what we learned from a gripping encounter.


WASTEFUL CITY PUNISHED

Sure, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City will point to the horrendous referring decision moments before Tottenham’s equalizer but they only have themselves to blame for not beating Spurs.

With City leading 2-1, Raheem Sterling surged into the box and was pushed by last-man Kyle Walker when he was clean though on goal and about to shoot. No penalty kick was awarded by referee Andre Marriner and moments later Son equalized to deny City victory. Pep Guardiola was livid, and rightly so, as Sterling should’ve won a PK and Walker should have been sent off.

End of discussion.

Despite that inept moment from the officials, City didn’t help themselves in this game.

They led 2-0 early in the second half and City should have been up by a few goals at half time as Hugo Lloris saved from David Silva, plus Pablo Zabaleta drilled a shot wide, then Sergio Aguero had a header and left-footed shot saved by Lloris.

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It was a brave, energetic display from City who at times had four men in forward positions and forced Tottenham to ditch their 3-4-3 system midway through the first half. Such was City’s dominance, Spurs could’ve had no complaints had they trailed 4-0 before Dele Alli scored.

Guardiola looked devastated at the final whistle. After their humiliating defeat at Everton last time out, he knew his team missed a glorious opportunity to make up points on those teams around them after Liverpool and Manchester United dropped points on Saturday.

This was more like the City side we expected under Pep, but with much focus on their poor defending (goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has now conceded 16 goals from the last 24 shots on target he’s faced, by the way) this season it was once again their wastefulness in front of goal which cost them dear.


INJURY ISSUES PILE UP FOR SPURS

After losing Jan Vertonghen for at least the next six weeks, the last thing Mauricio Pochettino wanted to see was Toby Alderweireld limping off clutching his hamstring. That’s what happened on Saturday.

[ MORE: Spurs unveil stunning areas of new stadium ]

On Thursday I was chatting to a few Spurs officials at an event to promote the incredible features at their new stadium at White Hart Lane. It became clear that many people within the organization believe they’d be a lot closer than seven points off PL leaders Chelsea had injuries been kind to them this season.

When you look at it, they have a point.

Alderweireld missed a few months. Harry Kane too. Now Vertonghen. Erik Lamela is also out. Mousa Demble was banned for the opening month (that was his own fault due to a suspension) of the season and Dele Alli was nursing knocks in September.

Unlike many of their competitors for the title, Spurs have yet to have a run of games with a full fit starting XI. The fact that Vertonghen was missing on Saturday was a huge handicap as they needed him to be a key part of their three-man defense which has allowed Spurs to flourish in their six-game winning streak.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies talk Man City, Tottenham ]

The fact that Spurs fought back from a 2-0 deficit to grab a point with both of their center backs missing, their ever reliable captain Lloris dropping two clangers, a tactical switch in the first half and another defender coming off at half time says it all.

Spurs stood tall through adversity and will no doubt be the happier team as they momentarily closed the gap to Chelsea to six points and sit in second place with 16 games to go. Pochettino won’t be happy, but he’ll take it.


CHELSEA THE BIG WINNERS

Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players will have a broad smile on their face on Saturday evening.

The Blues can move eight points clear of their closest rivals by the close of play on Sunday as Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all dropped points on Saturday.

There is no doubting that Chelsea was the big winners on Saturay without even kicking a ball. Now, if they can get Diego Costa focused and back among the goals then everything is set up for a season-defining stretch in 10 days time.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Chelsea face Liverpool on Jan. 31 at Anfield and four days later host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. If results continue to go their way between now and the conclusion of that pivotal stretch, Conte’s boys may have the title wrapped up by the time April rolls around.

With Spurs’ injury issues in defense, Chelsea’s biggest rivals to their title challenge look like they will have to overcome severe adversity to hunt them down.

Conte and Co. will sleep well ahead of their clash against Hull City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.

PL Preview: Three Tuesday fixtures including Chelsea visit to Huddersfield

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As the holiday season nears, the Premier League begins to ramp up. While that can be hard on Premier League managers, it’s great for you, the fan, who now has plenty of options to choose from as you make your way through the work week.

[ PL SCHEDULE: Where to watch all midweek Premier League games ]


Burnley vs. Stoke City – 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

If Burnley defeats Stoke City on Tuesday, the Clarets would jump Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool en route to a place in the Premier League table’s Top 4. Just pause for a moment and soak that in.

Better?

That’s right, Sean Dyche has his Burnley side on a roll, having won five of its last seven matches. In games where they were earning draws last year, they’re picking up all three points this year. Meanwhile, they face a Potters group that sits just three points above the relegation zone, meaning the heat has turned up on Mark Hughes. What is in store for us at Turf Moor?

INJURIES: Burnley – Tom Heaton (shoulder), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee) | Stoke City – Jese (personal leave), Glen Johnson (knee), Bruno Martins Indi (shoulder), Stephen Ireland (leg).


Huddersfield vs. Chelsea – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Antonio Conte, in charge of the defending champions, is suddenly on the hot seat. Already 14 points back of leaders and expected winners Manchester City, the Blues are sitting a distant third in the table.

A trip to Huddersfield could be exactly what the doctor ordered. The Terriers started the season well, but had lost four Premier League matches in a row before a 2-0 victory over Brighton turned things around.

Conte has already ruled Chelsea out of the title, with the Blues now fighting for a Champions League place. Can the boss take advantage of the poor opposition form? He will be without star striker Alvaro Morata who is dealing with both back problems and general fatigue, with Conte calling his schedule “impossible.”

INJURIES: HuddersfieldMichael Hefele (Achillies), Philip Billing (ankle), Jon Stankovic (knee), Kasey Palmer (ineligible – parent club) | Chelsea – Alvaro Morata (back), David Luiz (knee).


Crystal Palace vs. Watford – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

The Eagles hav a chance to pull themselves not only off the bottom of the Premier League table, but out of the relegation zone completely when they host Watford at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace sits a point back of Swansea City on the bottom, but with somewhat improved performances under Roy Hodgson, three points would climb them completely out of the drop.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how Hodgson balances a desperate need to collect points with discipline of his struggling striker Christian Benteke, who remains goalless on the year after missing a critical penalty he wasn’t supposed to take in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth over the weekend.

Watford, meanwhile, is without a win in its last three and desperately needs a result. The Hornets sit ninth in the Premier League table but could see their advantage over the bottom half evaporate with another loss.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace – Mamadou Sakho (calf), Joel Ward, Damien Delaney, Connor Wickham (knee) | Watford – Will Hughes (hamstring), Isaac Success (knee), Nathan Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee)