While the past week witnessed a glorious rebuttal of the risible European Super League by fans, this match proved a sobering reminder of the chasm that exists between Manchester City and the rest of English football.
Slick City Outclass Spurs To Clinch Cup
Aymeric Laporte’s 82nd-minute header saw Manchester City triumph in the League Cup for a fourth successive season following a crushingly one-sided final at Wembley.
While the past week witnessed a glorious rebuttal of the risible European Super League by fans, this match proved a sobering reminder of the chasm that exists between Manchester City and the rest of English football. This was the 12th title of the Abu Dhabi United Group era at Eastlands, a haul that looks likely to swell to 14 before the season is out. This is not to diminish Pep Guardiola’s achievements. Without question, he has spent Sheikh Mansour’s limitless fortunes brilliantly. There is almost something otherworldly about the magnificent football he has City playing this season. Spurs, even with Harry Kane passed fit to play, simply could not live with them.
The Citizens took up residence in the Tottenham half from kick-off. Sterling seized on a loose Son pass and drove into the box. The few thousand Spurs fans in attendance – part of the welcome pilot to reopen stadiums to supporters – winced as Serge Aurier attempted a desperate challenge from behind. While the Ivorian has often erred with ill-judged penalty box lunges, his tackle here was executed to perfection.
Minutes later, the full-back was powerless to prevent Sterling from skating past him on the byline. The England man cut the ball back to the six-yard box where Foden narrowly failed to sweep home at the near post.
Asphyxiated by City’s relentless movement and possession, Tottenham clung on. De Bruyne’s quick throw-in spirited Foden away down the left-wing. The youngster’s typically perceptive pass found Sterling eight yards from goal. Only Eric Dier’s fine block denied Guardiola’s side the opener they thoroughly deserved.
Ryan Mason had no doubt selected Harry Winks with the ambition of playing through the midfield. Such was the stress on the Tottenham defence that by the quarter-hour mark, this aspiration was abandoned. Hugo Lloris began punting the ball downfield just to give his beleaguered colleagues momentary respite.
Reflecting City’s dominance, Laporte ventured deep into the Spurs half to join the attack. The defender stumbled and was swiftly dispossessed by Lucas Moura. The Brazilian threatened to burst clear until the centre-back cut him down. It was an offence absolutely worthy of a caution, but inexplicably referee Paul Tierney showed leniency. While the Spurs players protested, City immediately set about creating another excellent opportunity. Eric Dier was hassled in the left-back position and delivered a wretched pass down the line that presented the ball to De Bruyne. The brilliant Belgian, who possesses perhaps the most educated feet in the country, swirled a low ball across the face of goal. Alderweireld stretched to intercept in front of Foden with his studs. Foden instantly adjusted and fired a stinging shot goalwards, but somehow the defender had recovered his footing in time to throw himself into a block that deflected the ball onto the post.
While lesser teams seeing so many chances squandered may have succumbed to frustration, City’s belief was unwavering. Sterling and Mahrez both went close as half-time approached. Then in the final minute of the half, the industrious Moura foraged possession in the right-back position. The forward burst through two challenges before being upended by the unrepentant Laporte, who, this time, was booked. Had his earlier indiscretion been appropriately punished, the defender may well have let Moura go. But, given that he would later decide the match, Spurs are entitled to feel more than a little aggrieved that his two fouls had not resulted in a red card.
There was still time for Cancello’s curling shot from the edge of the box to force a fine flying save from Lloris in first-half stoppage time. That Spurs made it to the interval unbreached was a triumph of sorts for the north Londoners. But Ryan Mason, overseeing just his second match as a manager, would have known that Tottenham could not possibly hope to endure another 45 minutes of this.
His side did respond after the break. They enjoyed more of the ball in the opening minutes of the second period than they had in the entirety of the first. Harry Kane was at last able to offer a beachhead in City territory, dropping deep to provide forward passes to Son. Just after the hour, Lo Celso worked the ball in to the England captain in the centre circle. Recognising City were short-staffed at the back, Kane charged forward. Assessing the threat, Kyle Walker checked Kane’s route to goal and instead allowed him to slip the ball through to Hojbjerg on the left of the City box. It proved a shrewd decision. The Dane who relishes snuffing out attacks was ill at ease leading one. Rather than going for goal, he attempted to play in Reguilon. The Spaniard had sprinted the length of the field to supplement the raid but was soon racing back after Hojbjerg’s careless pass went harmlessly behind for a goal-kick. And with that, Tottenham’s only real moment of menace in this final was gone.
Moussa Sissoko and Gareth Bale replaced Moura and Lo Celso, but neither could stem the City flow. Sterling scurried behind Alderweireld as the game entered its final twenty minutes and squared an inviting ball to Gundogan for the best chance of the match so far. Unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, the German, so prolific this campaign, shanked his shot horribly wide. Within seconds Mahrez cut a swathe through the Tottenham defence and drilled a low shot for the bottom corner, which Lloris, diving to his right, blocked with a strong wrist.
Somehow through a combination of last-ditch defending and profligate finishing, Spurs remained on terms as the game entered its final ten minutes. But just as Ryan Mason may have allowed thoughts of an unlikely smash and grab victory to creep into his mind, Spurs were undone in the most avoidable fashion. Tearing past Aurier, Sterling played a crisp give and go with De Bruyne. The beaten defender couldn’t resist the urge to bring his tormentor down. De Bruyne whipped in the resulting free-kick where Laporte had gained the run on Sissoko and powered a header past Lloris into the far corner.
Dele Alli and Steven Bergwijn were thrown on as Spurs tried to rescue the situation. But, such was City’s complete mastery of the ball, Tottenham found themselves utterly starved of possession in what remained of the game.
There was to be no fairytale for Ryan Mason. Spurs search for a trophy will now enter its fourteenth year. That the club’s last silverware came in 2008, just months before Manchester City underwent their billion-pound transformation, tells its own story. Super League or not, City remain in a class of their own.
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