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17th Aug 2019

Man City’s perfection is no match for the madness of football

Kyle Picknell

Kevin De Bruyne is still the best passer of a football in the world. And yet it wasn’t enough

So it goes on. The Manchester City freight train tearing through the Premier League team-by-team. Even Spurs, so often a bogey side for Guardiola, were helpless. They could do nothing but succumb to the steamrolling, despite Ederson briefly malfunctioning in the City goal and positioning himself somewhere along the M60 to gift them a temporary equaliser.

Or not.

It seems redundant to highlight at this point but Guardiola’s team are playing the game at a level that is simply out of reach of every other club in the league. They are without weakness, without fault, without inefficiency. Watching City tighten their slow, stranglehold grip on a game of football is like watching a boa constrictor choke and then devour a small, frightened mouse. They pass and pass and pass and pass and suddenly there is Kevin De Bruyne, the best passer in world football, free in an ocean of space with his head up. That usually equates to a goal. More often than not, that means a goal is coming.

That’s what I had before Spurs clawed it back and City failed to find a legitimate winner, anyway. Despite the result, it doesn’t really need changing.

Twice De Bruyne found himself in space and with time to pick his head up. Twice City scored, Raheem Sterling and then Sergio Aguero profiting from his clairvoyance. And yet… somehow… they still failed to win.

Given the season just gone, where De Bruyne made only 19 appearances in the league and seemed to struggle for match fitness and intensity, it was something of a comeback. He was his usual self, or more accurately, the force of nature he was two seasons ago, the quintessential up-and-down all-action midfielder who also happens to have two feet carved of marble by God.

Don’t let the scoreline which – unlike City’s last fixture against West Ham – was PG, fool you. They were utterly dominant. Spurs escaping the Etihad with a point is nothing short of a miracle. The fact it came via a Lucas Moura near-post header, from a corner, even more so. He’s five foot eight. He also has very, very worrying political leanings. Don’t let him do that to you, lads. Just don’t let it happen.

Tottenham? They were fortunate, sure. At times their defence, consisting of Walker-Peters, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Rose, looked like they had never met. The calming assurance of Jan Vertonghen was sorely missed. But to come away with a point, after this, a game in which last year’s Champions League finalists looked like a pub team, is impressive. Mauricio Pochettino is making disrupting City something of a regular habit.

30 shots, they had. 10 on target. Compared to three for Tottenham in total. One of those was from near the halfway line.

For two clubs at the very peak of modern football, the disparity was startling. Fortunately, football matches never really work the way you expect them too. After watching Bernardo Silva, the standout player in the Premier League last season, dribbling Erik Lamela, Tanguy Ndombele, Danny Rose and half the global audience into a coma without losing the ball it was impossible to see anything other than a clear, comfortable, precise City win.

Whatever people say about the financial gap in the game now, the chasm separating the best from the also-rans, it is games like this that show why we still watch. Why we still cheer. Gabriel Jesus’ late would-be winner was a moment, but so too was VAR ruling it out for an Aymeric Laporte handball.

It’s difficult to fault them, of course. Bar Ederson’s mental blip and some lackadaisical defending on a corner, they were marvellous. Then again, those are the fine margins that decide titles in this day and age. Liverpool haven’t looked impressive at all, and yet they head into the working week with six points and a Super Cup trophy in the bank. That’s just how it works.

“Against the second-best team in Europe last season… I’m so proud,” was Pep Guardiola’s verdict afterwards. He is right to be. The problem is, it’s a single point instead of three.