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Tottenham Loves To Ruin Manchester City’s Day

Dejan Kulusevski of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates after scoring a late equalising goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2023 in Manchester, England.
Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Though top-six soccer in the Premier League is almost always appointment viewing, few matchups have more moments of pure awe than Tottenham vs. Manchester City. Despite the gap in money and cumulative talent between the two sides, Tottenham is something of a boogeyman for Manchester City. Since Pep Guardiola took charge in 2016, only Chelsea (28) has scored more points than Spurs (21) against the Citizens. (Shout-out to Chelsea for truly having Pep's number; those 28 points don't even count the 2021 Champions League final, when the Blues got so deep inside the legendary coach's head that he lined his side up with no defensive midfielders, and paid the price for his overthinking.)

With that context in mind, City hosted Spurs on Sunday in what was for the Sky Blues more of a would-like-to-win game than a must-win one. City has been a bit wobbly this season, entering Sunday's match four points below Arsenal at the top of the table. With the margins so thin in this rarefied atmosphere—Liverpool is also up there, and the Pool Boys kept pace with their thrilling 4-3 win over Fulham earlier on Sunday—any win against a top-six side is a huge boon. For its part, Tottenham has fallen off its potentially title-charging early-season pace, due to a plethora of injuries to key contributors, and so it didn't feel like a classic Spurs-City matchup was in the cards.

Well, as the saying goes, that's why they play the games:

I'll get one thing out of the way early: Though it ended in a 3-3 draw, Manchester City should have won this game. It was typical City for 90 minutes: control the ball, get Erling Haaland into position to score, and reap the benefits. Except Haaland didn't have his best game, missing chance after chance. OK, no matter, because City is City and has all of the talent in the world. Scoring three goals against a top-six side is nothing to scoff at, after all. The problem is that Tottenham can also take joy in its own three goals, born from very little but worth all the same.

In fact, Tottenham scored the first two goals of the match ... sort of. In the sixth minute, Heung-min Son out-raced Jérémy Doku to a looping through ball, and after turning on the afterburners, he slotted a low bouncer past Ederson, who really should have done better:

Two minutes later, Son also scored the next goal, but this time he put it in his own net. Tottenham didn't deal well with a Bernardo Silva free-kick cross, and the ball fell to Son, whose attempted clearance wound up sailing into his own goal for City's equalizer.

After that bit of drama, City took control of the game. Trying to stop a Manchester City offense with the ball at its feet is often a fool's errand; the side just has too many players who can both dribble and make quick passes in tight spaces. The Citizens' second goal came from one such move, which saw Doku slot a perfect ball into the box to Julián Álvarez, who then turned and dinked it to Phil Foden, who capitalized on the one-versus-one against keeper Guglielmo Vicario by clipping the ball into the net:

After halftime, City got right back to work, with Silva forcing an incredible save from Vicario just 17 seconds after the break. This was the moment that happens in so many of City's matches, when the floodgates are at their maximum tension and it just takes one goal to let the deluge in. However, Tottenham didn't break, holding off City for long enough to let Giovani Lo Celso make his mark on the match. In the 69th minute, the Argentine midfielder received the ball at the top of the box and curled a perfect shot off of the post and into the net. Suddenly, despite 25 minutes of City pressure, Tottenham had equalized.

While the first Tottenham goal came before the run of play could be established, the second one was certainly against it. Rather than shift things, the goal only inspired City to push harder. Six minutes later, City came close to a go-ahead goal through Rodri, though the Spaniard couldn't quite get his shot under the bar for City's third. The bell had been rung, though, and it was Rodri again who did create the third: He stole the ball from an overwhelmed Yves Bissouma, played a well-weighted pass to Haaland running down the right wing, and the big Norwegian played that classic Pep-style cutback to Jack Grealish at the penalty spot. Despite not scoring for 26 games prior to Sunday, Grealish made no mistake here:

Since I already spoiled the score of this match, you already know that Tottenham refused to concede defeat. Pushed into desperation, Spurs started sending more men forward, and it paid off in the last minute of regular time. Brennan Johnson had Kyle Walker covering him down the left flank, but was able to get enough space to float in a cross that found the head of Dejan Kulusevski, just leaping over Nathan Aké. The resulting header floated in just under the crossbar, leaving Ederson flat-footed and Tottenham with another point from City that it mustered by sheer will.

Tottenham isn't a Mighty Mouse underdog or anything like that, and it traveling to Manchester and taking a point isn't as outlandish as when, like, Crystal Palace randomly does it. But in its current injury-riddled state, it does feel like a mountain was climbed here. It is the same mountain Tottenham always seems to find a way to summit, and City have to be sick and tired of the North Londoners making life difficult. (A quick side note, while I mention North London: I wonder if any Tottenham fans felt a bit of disgust, even briefly, that this draw helped Arsenal build a slightly comfier lead at the top. I would say "no," but soccer fans are weird.) Even in a match where Spurs are completely dominated on the ball, Ange Postecoglou's men continued the storied tradition of Tottenham shockers against City, and that's all one can really ask for from this particular top-six matchup.

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