The first five seconds or so of Tottenham’s performance yesterday were perfectly acceptable but, unfortunately for Andre Villas-Boas, it just went rapidly downhill from there.
There followed a duff clearance by Hugo Lloris from Younes Kaboul’s back pass and within a matter of seconds Jesus Navas had scored the first goal for Manchester City, setting the tone for the afternoon. For Villas-Boas this result was clearly a humiliating experience and, as the agony wore on, the Spurs manager made little effort to communicate with his players.
City are phenomenal at home, with 18 goals in their last three games at the Etihad, but this was an afternoon in which all Tottenham’s shortcomings were exposed. Villas-Boas even made good on his recent promise to bring on Emmanuel Adebayor for his first appearance of the season, a prospect he can never have considered when his club were embarking on that ambitious, post-Gareth Bale rebuilding programme this summer.
Five goals up before the hour, City really might have had at least three more after that before Navas scored the sixth and Spurs went quietly to their fate. Moussa Dembélé, a second-half substitute, made a slight improvement but by then the damage had been done. This City attack looks capable of slicing up any side in the league at home and to compete you really have to be at your best – a standard from which Spurs fell well short.
It did not help that their key player, Sandro, who put the second City goal into his own net, looked well below par and at one point was sick on the pitch. It was unfortunate for him, but a succinct verdict on his team’s performance. Around him, Lewis Holtby lasted until half-time and Paulinho was outplayed by his opposing countryman Fernandinho. In fact, wherever you looked on the pitch, Villas-Boas’ men lost their individual battles.
They have not scored in their last three league games and not won in the league since beating Hull on 27 October. It was hard to recall a chance carved out by an attacking three of Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela. By the time substitute James Milner hit a long ball from right-back from which Navas ran on to score the sixth – after Jan Vertonghen’s error – one imagined that they were already revving the Spurs team coach outside.
Vertonghen’s mistake was symbolic of a Spurs defence finally giving way. Before this defeat they had conceded six goals in 11 league games; they doubled that total to finish the day with a goal difference of minus three. Defeat to City was always a possibility, whatever the circumstances, but to concede within 14 seconds and never look in the running is unacceptable for a club with pretensions to finish in the top four.
For City, this was a strong return to form since that pre-international break defeat to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, and served only to make their away form all the more difficult to explain. Manuel Pellegrini made five changes from that side of two weeks ago and they were excellent, none more so than Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo.
The two of them are a joy to watch at times. The first goal had come when Aguero’s initial shot was saved and Navas chipped in the rebound from the right. Villas-Boas observed that “our game plan finished after 15 seconds” and certainly that seemed to be the case.
It was Aguero’s shot that made the second goal. Having been saved by Lloris it fell to Negredo whose nicely improvised volley rattled in off Kaboul and then Sandro. Possession had been conceded by another poor clearance from Lloris. That came in the 34th minute and when Aguero clipped in the third from Navas’s cross six minutes later the game was over.
“Difficult to explain” was Villas-Boas’s assessment of the game, although he later conceded that his team should be “ashamed”. It was Spurs’ heaviest defeat since the club lost 7-1 to Newcastle in December 1996, in the days when Clive Wilson and David Howells were in the team. But this is a different club in a different era and these kind of aberrations are supposed to be a thing of the past.
Spurs’ best chance was a shot by Paulinho that may not have been on target before it was kicked away by Martin Demichelis on the line. In desperation, Villas-Boas brought on Adebayor at half-time, ignoring Jermain Defoe, but there was precious little change. Negredo laid the ball off beautifully to Yaya Touré five minutes after half-time and he held off Kyle Walker to square the ball for Aguero’s second goal.
Goodness, it was easy for City in those 10 minutes before the hour. Samir Nasri hit the bar with the outside of his right foot when attempting a cross. Then Negredo turned Michael Dawson inside out and struck a shot past Lloris for the fifth goal on 55 minutes. In the away end, the Spurs fans sang: “We’re Tottenham Hotspur, we’ll sing when we’re s***” and they were obliged to keep going for the next 30 minutes.
There were other chances for City: a Negredo header that went over the bar, another opportunity for Touré and a miss by Fernandinho. Dembélé ran through the centre with 10 minutes left and teed up Adebayor but this was not Spurs’ day. Then came the final goal, a long ball from Milner that exposed Vertonghen – he has many qualities, but they were not obvious on this occasion – and Navas scored the sixth.
The conundrum for Pellegrini is how he takes this show on the road. City do not play away from home in the league until a week on Wednesday when they go to West Bromwich Albion. This victory takes them back up to fourth and within six points of the leaders, Arsenal. Spurs, a further two points back in ninth, are the ambitious club with all the problems now.
“Everything can change again, so we can get a lift from three points,” Villas-Boas said post-match. And in a league where these two clubs have lost eight matches between them already, that is undeniable. But it has to change quickly for Spurs, and unless their attack clicks soon, the damage to their ambitions this season will keep being done.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Pantilimon 6; Zabaleta 6, Demichelis 6, Nastasic 6 (Lescott 6, ht), Clichy 6; Navas 7, Fernandinho 7, Toure 8, Nasri 7 (Milner 6, 77); Negredo 8, Aguero 8 (Garcia 6, 66).
Tottenham (4-1-2-3): Lloris 5; Walker 4, Dawson 4, Kaboul 4, Vertonghen 3; Sandro 5; Paulinho 5 (Dembele 6, 61), Holtby 3 (Adebayor 4, ht); Lennon 5, Soldado 4 (Sigurdsson 5, 61), Lamela 3.
Booked: Manchester City Toure Tottenham Sandro, Vertonghen, Walker
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire)
Man of the match: Aguero