LONDON — Mauricio Pochettino won the tactical battle against Pep Guardiola on Sunday as Tottenham Hotspur inflicted the first defeat of Pep’s reign at City.
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Going into the game Guardiola’s side had won six-straight matches in the Premier League but they were coming up against a Spurs side who were the only other unbeaten PL team. With both teams playing a very similar philosophy, it was set to be a close, tight encounter.
Tottenham set the tone early and Man City never recovered. High-pressing expertly is Pochettino’s penchant and he out-did Guardiola. Man City’s manager admitted that post-game but had a little shot at Spurs too: “In two or three years my team will be better,” Guardiola said.
In the here and the now they weren’t but I see what Pep was trying to say.
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Pochettino is now in his third season at Spurs and once again his young side seem to be improving and developing under his intense philosophy. With Spurs now the only unbeaten team in the PL, Pochettino was asked about the staying power of his side.
Consistency is key but Pochettino, who hailed this performance as “nearly perfect,” has high hopes for his side who pushed Leicester all the way for the Premier League title last season.
“It is too early in the season to talk about aims but it is important to be consistent If we can play like this, how we played today, why can we not be consistent throughout the season?” Pochettino said. “That is a big effort but that is the way that we work and we want to play. I think today was a good example that we want to follow and to build our pressure.”
The pressure was intense and too much for City to handle.
The excellent Heung-Min Son dropped deep and ran at John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi time and time again in a central forward role, with Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen all breaking from midfield. Spurs were handed a gift early on as Aleksandar Kolarov put into his own net and they never took their foot of the gas as Son brilliantly set up Alli for the second.
With Pochettino and Guardiola’s ideologies similar, Spurs’ boss used his superior experience with his group of players to his advantage. He beat Pep at his own game.
“It was a really exciting game and both teams play in a really exciting way,” Pochettino said. “We share a similar philosophy and I think it was an exciting game. I enjoyed it a lot from the touchline. The fans enjoyed it a lot and the neutral enjoyed too. Both teams, the mentality was to go forward and play football and to try and win the game.”
Guardiola’s famous six-second rule he developed at Barcelona wasn’t apparent on Sunday. City didn’t press Tottenham high and hard enough and spent most of the first half passing themselves into trouble around the own penalty box. All credit to Spurs who had seen the blueprint Celtic had delivered in City’s midweek UEFA Champions League draw with them and carried it out with more quality.
One thing was clear from this game at White Hart Lane: Pochettino and Guardiola’s teams will be right up there at the end of the season when all is said and done. Along with Arsenal, Liverpool and perhaps Manchester United, these are the two stand-out teams in the league.
In the summer Spurs didn’t spend big but instead added prudently by giving new contracts to key players, plus bringing in the likes of Victor Wanyama, Vincent Janssen and Moussa Sissoko who all add extra depth to their squad. Without the influential Harry Kane and Moussa Dembele on Sunday they beat City comfortably. That fact shouldn’t be overlooked.
Pochettino knows his side have somewhat flown under the radar so far. His team haven’t been the biggest spenders or been the most talked about in the papers but slowly people are starting to realize that last seasons title push wasn’t a fluke. After seven games of the season, it is clear Tottenham has the quality to fight for the title, again, and Pochettino knows it.
“I feel very proud. It is true that we are in a different level than other clubs we work very hard to try to improve and the way that we want to play we have enough quality,” Pochettino said. “If we play with passion and the passion we showed today, we have quality enough to fight with the big teams.”