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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

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.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

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).

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?

An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

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Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”