In a game that was akin to a breathless five-a-side, Manchester City slipped from mastering Tottenham to a sloppiness that should, privately, infuriate Pep Guardiola more than Simon Hooper’s odd decision in added time to wave play on before the referee awarded a foul on Erling Haaland after the No 9 had sent Jack Grealish through.
The decision led Haaland and his colleagues to surround the referee – which may provoke an FA charge against City for failing to control their players – but material to the title race is how the champions slip to three points behind Arsenal, 14 matches in.
Dejan Kulusevski was the visitors’ hero. As this helter-skelter contest went into the added minutes, Brennan Johnson skated along the left and popped the ball into City’s area and the Swedish winger – via a shoulder – beat Ederson to make it 3-3.
The draw means Ange Postecoglou’s side halt, admirably, a run of three consecutive defeats, and the champions have dropped six points from the last nine available. The last time they failed to win in three consecutive Premier League matches occurred March-April 2017 and so City can be characterised as having a wobble by their supreme standards.
They are at Aston Villa on Wednesday, when Rodri and Jack Grealish are not available because of suspension after being booked on Sunday. Guardiola can be upset at Grealish as his yellow card was for a petulant kick of the ball. He was on for Jérémy Doku, who appeared to have picked up an injury, so this is another blow for City.
In the merit column, though, Grealish did seem to have grabbed all the points when sliding home on 81 minutes. City’s No 10 certainly does not score enough – this was a first of the campaign – and it derived from Postecoglou’s intent that Ange-ball will not be affected whoever the opponents might be.
Close to his goal, Yves Bissouma was pickpocketed by Rodri, whose pass went right to Haaland. The Norwegian, profligate throughout, slipped the ball over and Grealish finished. But City proved powder-puff, unable to hold the lead before, in a frantic finish in the extra minutes, Haaland thought he had again put Grealish in.
This all came after a fine start by Tottenham as they scored the type of breakaway strike that is the textbook way to breach City. Kulusevski curved the ball over the champions high line for Son Heung-min. The Spurs captain was in a foot race with Doku meaning the latter’s jet-heeled pace would, surely, make this competitive but the Belgian lacked desire and Son skipped through to beat Ederson.
Great start, sure, yet three minutes later – in the ninth – City equalised. It was direct stuff, too: Julián Álvarez pinged a free-kick in from the right and the ball brushed Haaland’s forehead and banged off Son and past a helpless Guglielmo Vicario. Next in a madcap passage 1-1 should have become 2-1 to City. After a Vicario pass to Emerson the defender flapped when cornered by Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese squared to Haaland who was at point-blank range yet he fluffed the finish.
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The Postecoglou blueprint features high lines, pressing, and front-foot attacking. Thus far his men were being pressed back near goal and hoping to thrive off breakaways. This is what City do to even the most determined plans. Tottenham’s opener came from the counter and a second nearly derived from the same ploy. Johnson left Rúben Dias flailing as he burned along the right but, unlike Doku, the Portuguese refused to give up and his recovery was admirable. Soon, Guardiola was displaying the diametric emotion on witnessing Silva pass straight to Bryan Gil who, near goal, might have scored.
When City took the lead it came a little after a sweeping home move that ended in Doku crashing the ball off Tottenham’s crossbar. This time the Belgian’s part was to prod to Álvarez, who recycled to Phil Foden, who stroked in past Vicario.
This had become a spectacle of City sequences and chances, forcing Tottenham into a frantic all-hands-on deck mode while seeming to not possess quite enough numbers to stem the relentless wave. So it was that Bissouma shipped the ball to Álvarez and when the Argentinian tapped to Haaland it had to be 3-1. But the master marksman blasted over, to his visible disgust.
Postecoglou’s default expression was often one of disappointment – particularly when City escaped the squeeze, but this is one of their many areas of expertise. The Australian might have swapped it for relief as, at the interval, Spurs were only a goal behind so still harboured hope. After a talking-to, not “anger” Postecoglou claimed, Tottenham were a different proposition, aided by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s introduction for the second half, the Dane, on for Gil, solidifying Spurs.
City, too, eased off the gas and it led to Giovani Lo Celso making it 2-2: Álvarez’s lazy flick was sloppy and intercepted by Ben Davies, Son was fed, he passed to the Argentinian, and the finish, at distance, was curled in off the base of Ederson’s right post.
Grealish thought he had won it only for Kulusevski to intervene. Now came the grandstand – and controversial – finish, which began with Emerson Royal felling Haaland. We probably have not heard the end of it.