Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Wembley on Monday, as Pep Guardiola‘s men went back to the top of the Premier League thanks to Riyad Mahrez‘s early goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

In truth, it was an edgy game played on a pitch ravaged by Sunday’s NFL encounter at Wembley with both teams guilty of misplaced passes at vital moments and letting one another off the hook after mistakes.

Here’s what we learned from a cagey encounter at Wembley.


DISJOINTED SPURS PROVE POCHETTINO’S POINT

Spurs’ tally of 21 points was their highest from the opening nine games of a PL season, so you’d think Mauricio Pochettino would be a happy man. He’s not at all. Ahead of the game against City he was asked about Tottenham’s first few months of the season as they’re in-touch of the PL leaders but have yet to win any of their opening three UEFA Champions League games.

“The season so far?” Pochettino said. “It’s strange because my feeling is the worst feeling I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here. It’s the worst. But it’s the best start ever for the club in the Premier League. It’s strange, no?”

Pochettino’s main gripe has been the sloppy nature of his team. They’ve ground out wins without impressing and due to several factors including injuries to stars such as Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen, plus a World Cup hangover for many of his players, Spurs just haven’t got going. Monday was a perfect example of that. They found gaps in-behind City on numerous occasions but Harry Kane‘s touch was off, Erik Lamela skied a great chance, the final pass was poor or concentration at the key moment was missing. That sums up Tottenham’s season so far and perhaps proves how far they’ve come as Pochettino is annoyed with sitting in fifth spot despite being far from their best.


MAN CITY’S TITLE DEFENSE BUILT ON DEFENSE

With their shutout win at Tottenham, Man City equalled a club league record of six-straight clean sheets as their defensive unit continues to be resolute. The last time City conceded a goal was to Newcastle on Sept. 1 when DeAndre Yedlin burst free to slot home. That was almost two months ago. They are now unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League games (since a 3-2 home capitulation against Manchester United) and have conceded just six goals in that timeframe. Defensive solidity has been their key area of improvement this season, as City have conceded just three times in their first 10 PL games and only one team in history (Chelsea in 2004-05) has let in fewer at this stage of a season. They conceded the fewest goals in the PL last season with 27 but it seems like they will easily beat that record this season with 28 games to go.

Some of the individual defending wasn’t perfect on Monday, with Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker guilty of poor touches and being caught upfield as Spurs countered. But John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho put themselves in the correct positions in front of Ederson to safeguard City’s shutout once again. After their 0-0 draw at Liverpool earlier this month, City showed they can play in a more defensive framework away from home against one of their fellow top six sides and get a result. Just as they have away at Arsenal, Liverpool and now Spurs, scoring three times and conceding none. It is more of a mindset for City at this point, as it looked like their defenders truly believed they wouldn’t concede, even though Spurs were guilty of some gilt-edged misses. We usually associate Guardiola’s style with pressing to win the ball back high up the pitch and City still do that, but away from home they’ve been dropping deeper and now have the ability to bend but not break, then spring forward and terrorize their opponents.

We all know about their attacking talents but City’s defensive solidity could be how they get close to reaching the 100-point mark again this season.


STERLING ADDING POISE TO PACE

Raheem Sterling may be one of the most divisive players in the Premier League, if not world soccer.

But this stat sums up his importance to Man City: since the start of last season only Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah have been involved in more goals than Sterling’s 22 goals and 14 assists.

Still just 23 years old, only four players in PL history have made more appearances than the 200 Sterling has now racked up. The main criticism of him is that he lacks the nous and patience in the final third to unlock opposition defenses, while his struggles in front of goal for England have been well documented.

Yet on Monday he showcased once again why he’s in the form of his life. He raced free time and time again in the first half, pulling Spurs’ defense all over the place. The way he calmly cut inside and set up Mahrez’s for City’s goal proved the poise he’s added to his game under Guardiola. The goals and assists are coming for City (even if his effort from close range in the second half was blocked) and the goals flowed for England in their marquee win at Spain a few weeks ago.

With reports of contract talks stalling between Sterling and City, it is clear to see why he’s now one of the hottest properties in the game.