The inevitability of Erling Haaland means the Premier League title finale has a very familiar feel

Tottenham Hotspur 0-2 Manchester City: The striker scored twice in the second half to end Spurs’ hopes of the top four

Miguel Delaney
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Wednesday 15 May 2024 07:24
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Haaland scores his second goal for City
Haaland scores his second goal for City (Reuters)

A formality in the strangest of settings. In the seconds after Erling Haaland scored the goal that won this match and probably the Premier League title, you could feel the tension just evaporate. And that wasn’t from the away end. It was the whole stadium, as the Tottenham Hotspur fans immediately began to sing about marching in.

That was followed by a corner of the stadium doing the Manchester City fan dance of “the Poznan” and many more than standing up because they “hated Arsenal”. Finally, there was "are you watching, Arsenal?"

Up until then, there’d be a nervous energy about the occasion. Spurs supporters had almost been anxiously going through the motions of supporting their team. There was anticipation when they broke, and jeers when Ruben Dias mis-controlled the ball out of play, but it didn’t feel full voice.

That changed in the instant of the goal. It changed again when Son Heung-Min went through on goal at 1-0. Somehow, a player who is statistically the best finisher in the Premier League failed to take the chance. Sub keeper Stefan Ortega claimed his own place in City folklore. Arsenal might quip similar about Tottenham. It was all that odd. So the Premier League has one more type of storyline to add to its archive of stories, although this different type of occasion is almost certainly going to lead to the same champions. This 2-0 win means that City have it in their hands going into the final day, and that any victory over West Ham United will be enough.

Arsenal need a miracle, although they would have said similar about this match. You could definitely say it about Son missing.

The greater oddity to the occasion was that the surreal atmosphere looked like it was serving Arsenal for at least the first half. It took just seconds for the home crowd to make everyone aware of the fundamental truth to this occasion. The immediate chant was “we hate Arsenal”.

As Spurs started quite well, though, City struggled to get going. There was a flatness to the display. They weren’t really building moves. Only Phil Foden was really making anything happen in the middle with innovative little runs to create space. Over on the right, Kyle Walker was repeatedly put through – in a route that looked like it frequently carried real risk for Spurs – but he couldn’t do much with it. When one burst did result in Bernardo Silva having a shot at goal, the ball bounced wide off Radu Dragusin. That was immediately ruled offside, but it fostered the sense this might be one of those nights.

Then, mere minutes after half-time, Haaland scored one of those goals. A Spurs attack saw the ball worked straight up the other end, and over to Kevin De Bruyne. He hadn’t had his best game, but he was always going to play the ball required in a moment like that. The Belgian saw the space, putting it in that gap between the defenders, for Haaland to easily tap in. The champions had scored a goal that has become so familiar – even in this sort of game. It was almost all the more inevitable it came in this sort of game. When all else is out of kilter, go back to the process.

Haaland scores the first of two on the night (Reuters)

The City fans weren’t the only supporters singing.

Spurs, for their part, kept going. The team did their bit. They pushed City more than they pushed Arsenal here, and performed as professionals do. Cristian Romero was so determined to get to one chance that he collided with Ederson in a moment that was difficult to watch. The goalkeeper had to go off, and was visibly in discomfort on the bench.

His replacement Stefan Ortega immediately had much more to do – and then some. Dejan Kulusevski first got behind the City defence to get a shot on target that almost slipped under the goalkeeper, but he’d done enough.

It signalled a different tension taking over. It was a more classic run-in occasion, as the champions sought to maintain their lead and a certain steadiness. The problem with that sort of approach is that it’s always a bit of a compromise. There’s a trepidation that brings a risk, that grows the closer you get to the end.

So it was a moment that may be almost as meaningful as the goal. On the 85th minute, Manuel Akanji got caught as the last man just inside the City half. Son raced through on goal, for a one-on-one that was surely going to be taken. City’s replacement number-one instead stood strong. Ortega brilliantly held his own ground to firmly stop Son’s low strike. Pep Guardiola fell back in amazement.

Son spurned a great chance to level (Reuters)

Moments later, Jeremy Doku fell over in the other box from a foul. Haaland stepped up and claimed his second, for what will now surely make City the first side in history to win four successive titles. They still have to win on Sunday, but does anyone doubt that? Was there ever much doubt about the way the title was going to go, let alone this game?

That is a discussion that will no doubt rise over the next week. Spurs fans will feel they don't have to get into a horrible discussion over whether they have helped their biggest rivals win a first league in 20 years. A tension has gone, not least in the title race itself.

Moments from the end, there was that same chant, that had punctuated the second half.

“Are you watching Arsenal?” Most had probably turned off after the penalty.

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