Three things we learned from Tottenham vs. Manchester City

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester City 2-0 at White Hart Lane on Sunday as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side remain the only unbeaten side in the Premier League.

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A first half own goal from Aleksandar Kolarov was added to by a superb team move as Dele Alli slotted home and Man City never got going with Pep Guardiola left scratching his head on the sidelines.

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Spurs are second on 17 points, with City to on 18 points following their first defeat of the Guardiola era.

Here’s what we learned from White Hart Lane in a massive early season win for Spurs who laid down their title credentials.


SON STEPS UP

“Go on Sonny, more of the same son!” yelled a Tottenham fan as the players made their way back into the dressing room before kick off.

With Harry Kane out injured, Tottenham needed someone to step up in his absence, big time. Heung-Min Son has done just that. And then some.

The South Korean forward almost left Tottenham in the summer after not being happy to be a bit-part player at Spurs. Kane’s injury opened the door for somebody to be the new hero at the Lane. Many thought it would be new signing Vincent Janssen but his slow start to life at Spurs continues. Instead it is Son who has moved up to a central strikers role from the wing.

He scored two in the win at Middlesbrough last week, plus the winner at CSKA Moscow in midweek, and from the start he set the tone, skipping past two City players 30 seconds in and drilling just over. Shortly after he got in down the left but saw Claudio Bravo block his shot at the near post and Son then set up Alli wonderfully with a perfectly-weighted pass to make it 2-0. Son is flourishing in a central role and so often he dropped five yards in front of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, turned and was able turn and run at City’s defense.

With Kane likely out until early November, Spurs now have a go-to man up to who knits everything together seamlessly. His clever running, passes and ability to be on the same wavelength as Alli, Christian Eriksen and Spurs’ other attackers means Tottenham can continue their charge without top goalscorer Kane.

If Son would’ve been allowed to take the penalty kick instead of Erik Lamela wrestling it off of him, maybe it would’ve been 3-0. Still, Son is the main man for Spurs and when he was replaced late on, the home fans gave him a standing ovation. That said it all.


BLUEPRINT TO BEAT CITY EMERGES

Before this season began Guardiola spoke about how he’d come to England to see if the way his teams play could work. This was the first major speed bump in his playing philosophy which had, up until now, dominated. We saw it in midweek against Celtic in the 3-3 draw in the UEFA Champions League and it emerged again on Sunday: there’s a distinct way to beat Man City.

High pressure early and often is the model for success and it sounds easy enough but it so, so hard to do properly. Luckily Spurs have it down to a tee. Pochettino’s trademark style worked early and often against City and Guardiola had to admit failure in the way he set his team up.

He played Fernandinho in a more advanced role in the first half and with Fernando in a deeper role, City couldn’t stop the flow of white shirts running towards their central defenders. That in turn led to John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi overplaying at the back with their midfield outlets locked up and that also led to Claudio Bravo, once again, being targeted.

Bravo was almost caught in possession on multiple occasions and City never truly got going despite brief moments of promise from Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas out wide, plus Sergio Aguero largely frustrate by Spurs’ tight defense, a lack of service and a smart stop from Hugo Lloris in the second half. Without the injured Kevin De Bruyne they lacked a cutting edge in the final third. City won’t be too concerned but this display highlights how they can be overwhelmed in the defensive areas by teams who are wiling to be brave and play them at their own game. City lost their first game under Guardiola and it provided a blueprint for how teams can get at them.


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The intensity of this game was up there with the best in the Premier League this season. Before the game it was touted as a clash between the only two unbeaten teams and two title challengers but many expected Man City’s six-game unbeaten run to continue and Spurs, at best, to get a draw. As we now know, that wasn’t the case and Spurs can be seen as legitimate title contenders.

Spurs have laid down an early-season marker that their third-place finish last season was not a fluke. Pochettino’s young side beat City twice last season and they’re the first to beat them this season. This victory before the international break will give them great hope that they can challenge for the title once again.

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As for City, the past few days have delivered a reality check. Drawing at Celtic in the UCL and then being comprehensively beaten at Spurs has left everyone with a sense that maybe Guardiola’s team won’t cut down everyone in their path. City are still top on 18 points but Spurs are just behind on 17.

Without the injured Moussa Dembele and Kane, Spurs’ young team proved they can rise to the occasion.