Premier League: Pep Guardiola's VAR woes continue as Manchester City suffer early setback in title defence

From Moura's goal, until the rather dramatic ending of the match, the game played out in predictable patterns, with spells of Manchester City possession ending in near-escapes and close shaves for Tottenham

Aadi Nair August 18, 2019 13:33:37 IST
Premier League: Pep Guardiola's VAR woes continue as Manchester City suffer early setback in title defence
  • Everyone thought Gabriel Jesus had won the match for City when he walloped the ball into the net through a sea of legs in the 94th minute.

  • For a majority of the 97 minutes or that were played, Manchester City were very, very good.

  • City are the team to beat, and even if they were just short of perfect on the night, Spurs have shown that if you hang in long enough, you can get a result.

Loath as I am to begin with a quote, there's a particular nugget of wisdom from Yankees Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez that seems especially apt after Manchester City's draw against Tottenham. The American is famous for having remarked that he'd 'rather be lucky than good,' a sentiment that has been echoed time and again in the sporting world since, and on Saturday, it was deep into extra time when Pep Guardiola's turn came to rue his rotten luck.

Everyone thought Gabriel Jesus had won the match for City when he latched onto an Aymeric Laporte flick and walloped the ball into the net through a sea of legs in the 94th minute. The fans thought it, the players thought it and Guardiola thought it. The stadium erupted in a cacophony of celebration, City fans bolstered by that particular brand of drunken elation which usually accompanies a last-gasp winner. On the flip side, Tottenham heads were hung, the wind well and truly taken out of their sails. The only person unmoved by the goal was referee Michael Oliver, who waited for confirmation from the voice in his ear. Confirmation which was not forthcoming. Confirmation which turned to denial. After failing them in their Champions League exit against Tottenham last season, VAR had once again dealt City a lousy hand. It was deja vu, in a sense.

Premier League Pep Guardiolas VAR woes continue as Manchester City suffer early setback in title defence

Gabriel Jesus remonstrates with the referees in vain. Reuters

A replay on the Etihad Stadium's gigantic screens made the situation a little clearer for everyone involved. The ball had grazed Laporte's arm on it's way to Jesus. There was no intent from the Spanish centre-back, it was hardly in the same vein as Maradona's 'Hand of God,' but intent, or indeed a lack of it, was made irrelevant by a change in the rules this summer. The story of the match finally had its denouement, a good deal later than expected.  The goal was disallowed. Parity was restored, and the match ended in a 2-2 draw. But don't let the scoreline fool you. What unfolded on Saturday was anything but level.

For a majority of the 97 minutes or that were played, Manchester City were very, very good. They had a whopping 30 shots to Tottenham's three, 10 of which were on target. The likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva made for a mesmerising watch, as City dominated the game and kept Tottenham pegged back in their own half with some top-drawer football. The first goal of the match came courtesy of Sterling, who raced onto an inch-perfect cross from De Bruyne to head in at close range. Thought it was scored relatively early, in the 20th minute, the goal had looked inevitable from the very first minute, and City were deservedly ahead. Not for long, though.

Premier League Pep Guardiolas VAR woes continue as Manchester City suffer early setback in title defence

Raheem Sterling heads past Hugo Lloris to open the scoring. Reuters

Just three minutes later, after having had not a single sniff of goal, Tottenham were level thanks to Erik Lamela. The Argentine midfielder picked up the ball just a few yards away from the centre circle, meandering his way through a sedentary City midfield before attempting a wholly unimpressive shot from distance. The strike should have been dealt with easily by Ederson, but the Brazilian goalkeeper got his positioning all wrong, and the ball rolled past his outstretched arms. City were hit by a sucker-punch of their own making and it was not to be the last of the day.

After collecting themselves, City went straight back at it, ratcheting up the intensity in their pursuit for another goal. Hugo Lloris was peppered with an array of shots in the next ten minutes or so, and almost inevitably, one of them squeezed past him, facilitated once again by the peerless brilliance of a resurgent De Bruyne. The Belgian picked up the ball on the right flank, and sauntered into the Tottenham penalty area, before squaring a deft little ball to Sergio Aguero, who slotted it past the Spurs captain. City were ahead, the world felt right again, and Lamela's equaliser was just a glitch in the simulation as the match reached half time.

City began the second half with as much intensity as they did the first, seemingly looking to wrap up the three points by the hour mark. Unfortunately for them, however, Lucas Moura was to play the proverbial spanner in the works in what will probably go down as one of the most effective substitutions in the history of the Premier League. The Brazilian winger replaced Harry Winks in the 56th minute when play was stopped for a Tottenham corner. He made his way towards the City penalty area and rose above Kyle Walker to score with his very first touch of the game, just 19 seconds after coming on. It was sucker-punch numero dos.

From that point on, until the rather dramatic ending of the match, the game played out in predictable patterns, with spells of Manchester City possession ending in near-escapes and close shaves for Tottenham. Perhaps the most eventful incident of this period came in a brief but heated exchange of words between Guardiola and Aguero after the Argentine striker was replaced by Jesus in the 66th minute. While on any other day, this would have made for headline news, the pair were seen embracing towards the end of the match, and the episode will probably fade into obscurity in the shadow of VAR.

Premier League Pep Guardiolas VAR woes continue as Manchester City suffer early setback in title defence

Pep Guardiola and Sergio Aguero square up after the striker's substitution. Reuters

 

Guardiola was understandably peeved in his post-match interviews and bemoaned VAR's inconsistency, saying, "it happened last week with Wolves (against Leicester) and we saw for Chelsea on Wednesday — the keeper wasn't on his line — Adrian in the penalty shoot-out. They have to fix it. The whistle inside matches now isn't quite clear. But they believe it's hand with Llorente in the Champions League and sometimes they don't."

On the face of it, this probably isn't that big of a deal for Manchester City. They can take great heart in knowing that they bossed around last season's Champions League finalists like they were playing Sunday League, and with 36 more matches yet to come, the two points they dropped here are hardly likely to decide the title. But it is a big deal for pretty much everyone else. From the Liverpools and the Chelseas to the Burnleys and the Brightons. City are the team to beat, and even if they were just short of perfect on the night, Tottenham have shown that maybe, just maybe, if you hang in there long enough, you can get a result.

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