The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was christened less than a week ago with victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League. Tonight was the night that the new stadium was built for; a Champions League quarter-final against arguably England’s top team.
Son Heung-min Delivers Tottenham Hotspur a First-Leg Lead
VAR Controversy Yet Again
Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane were somewhat surprisingly dropped to the bench for this first leg by Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard is searching for his first Champions League title in eight years. Manchester City started the game very organised, a lot more rigid than fans have been used to. Tottenham started brightly with some excellent passing between Danny Rose, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli that brought an early opportunity which Alli volleyed over the bar.
Harry Kane then had the chance to beat Ederson but the keeper saved. The City defence had just stopped in its tracks and it should have been 1-0 to Tottenham.
VAR is the technology that is touted to help officials get more decisions right. At the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was again at the centre of controversy. Raheem Sterling was giving Kieran Trippier nightmares and when he cut inside to shoot, Rose threw himself at the ball to make the block. It didn’t seem that there would be anything else but a corner kick to City. The referee was consulted by the VAR team from their truck and he decided to look at the footage himself. After a couple of minutes, referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the penalty spot. How Rose could have got his hands out of the way with the challenge is anyone’s guess. It once again proved that VAR is only going to work if the officials are up to scratch. The issue is not just in England but across the world. The inconsistency was supposed to be removed with VAR. It is causing more problems than it solves.
Hugo Lloris Proves Brilliance Despite Recent Criticism
Against Burnley and more recently Liverpool, Hugo Lloris made poor mistakes that cost his team. A lesser professional could have lost his confidence. Tonight, the World Cup winner once more proved why he is still worth backing. Sergio Aguero stepped up to take the penalty and despite the controversy and uproar around him in the stands, Lloris pulled off a fine save to his left. The reaction from the keeper was cool and calm. His teammates knew though that this was an important moment in the tie.
Cynical City Lucky to End With 11 Men
Other than Raheem Sterling’s run and Aguero’s subsequent saved penalty, City were less energetic than usual. They seemed lacklustre, maybe due to the change of personnel but certainly because of Manchester City’s cynical tactics. Rather than pressing the ball, the City players were committing niggling fouls. Fabian Delph constantly gave the ball away and each time he did he was subsequently intent on rectifying his mistakes by committing needless fouls. The referee was oddly lenient with his lack of yellow cards for persistent fouling.
When Harry Kane jumped for a header with Fernandinho, both players fell to the ground. Fernandinho landed behind Kane and elbowed the England striker in the back of the head. The officials clearly missed it but the VAR team would have seen it. No referral to VAR was forthcoming. Not even a yellow card. It was a cynical and intentional elbow and if Tottenham Hotspur were to get any luck in the match, it would have to be of their own making.
Son Heung-min Delivers First Blood as Tie Delicately Poised
When the ball was passed to Son Heung-min, he mis-controlled and the ball headed toward the goal line. It looked a lost cause. However, Son doesn’t believe in lost causes. He believes in positivity and he chased the ball down, keeping it in; only just, but it was clearly in. Delph just stood appealing for a goal kick. Son played on, got space and hit a low shot which went under Ederson’s body. There was a quick VAR check but the goal stood. The first player to score a Premier League goal at the new ground became the first to score a Champions League goal at the new ground too. The praise is often lavished on Kane, who incidentally limped off with an ankle injury which could end his season, but Son is a player who lights up games and lit the blue touch paper tonight.
Second Leg Has Potential to be a Classic
Tottenham have their one-goal lead and also did not concede which could turn out to be important in determining the final outcome of this tie. Manchester City will surely be a different beast at the Etihad on the 17th of April. Expect a higher tempo and much more width. Tottenham will need to make sure that they don’t get drawn into making cynical challenges as City did here. If they do, City will take advantage.
Tottenham Hotspur deserved this narrow victory and had Son shown more composure at the end of the match, it could have been a two, even three-goal advantage.
The atmosphere was as incredible as expected and it is advantage Tottenham Hotspur. In just over a weeks time, it potentially could be an all-time classic as both teams battle to make it through to the Champions League semifinals. Manchester City are still the bookies’ favourites but Tottenham proved in this match that they are good enough to win and good enough to defy the odds.