Stefan Ortega: Unlikely Man City hero praised for 'world class' moment which could decide the title race

Stefan Ortega: Unlikely Man City hero praised for 'world class' moment which could decide the title race

It felt like the decisive moment in one of the most compelling title races in Premier League history.

City fans will surely come to look back on Stefan Ortega’s outstanding late save from Heung-min Son as the moment their club clinched their fourth straight crown.

Ortega’s crucial save means that Arsenal’s hopes now rest on City not beating West Ham on Sunday.

City’s back-up goalkeeper was introduced in the 69th minute after Ederson was hurt in a collision with Cristian Romero. The Brazilian was furious at being replaced when it became clear he could not continue.

Ortega put in his latest inspired display this season, blocking superbly from Dejan Kulusevski’s close-range strike before advancing sharply off his line to save with his outstretched right leg as Son went through one-on-one late on.

Pep Guardiola collapsed to the ground when Manuel Akanji’s error allowed Son in, but Ortega came to the rescue of his manager, his team and the contingent of Spurs fans wanting their own team to lose.

Erling Haaland scored the two winning goals, but Ortega was City’s unlikely hero.

Winning a title demands supreme quality, and in Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and others, City most definitely have that. But it also requires squad depth. Ortega’s success this season is another signal of City’s unmatched strength in that department. He is, by now, almost undeniably the best second-choice goalkeeper in the division.

The 31-year-old German has saved the last 11 shots he has faced when coming on as a substitute in the league. And after Ortega shone when Ederson missed three matches with a muscle injury in March, Guardiola rewarded him by picking him in two of the next three games, even with Ederson back fit.

Ortega’s dependence bodes well for his chances of starting against West Ham at the Etihad on the final day of the season on Sunday.

So, too, does Guardiola’s curt-enough summary of Ederson’s injury last night. “He can’t see properly,” said Guardiola of his goalkeeper, who was sporting a shiner under his right eye after the game.

Guardiola heaped praise on “world-class” Ortega after a fine cameo display.

“He has done this since he arrived,” said the City boss. “We saw the level of keeper he is. He makes incredible saves and does it so many times. Stefan has saved us, otherwise Arsenal are Premier League champions.”

Ortega joined City in 2022 from Arminia Bielefeld, following their relegation from the Bundesliga. He has proven a shrewd purchase, keeping 17 clean sheets and conceding a measly 24 goals in 32 games for City. And it was telling that Guardiola made a beeline for Ortega after the final whistle, planting a kiss on the cheek of his exceptional back-up.

Kyle Walker, meanwhile, said Ortega’s pivotal block from Son reminded him of the sort of stop Manuel Neuer might make.

In time, Ortega may question for how much longer he is willing to play second fiddle to Ederson, but these are not considerations for now. He must instead focus on the final game of the season.

Whether or not he is called upon on Sunday, a block with his right leg last night may well have won City the title.