Manchester City arrived at White Hart Lane with a less than impressive record against Spurs in recent history, but produced an imperious display, humiliating a Tottenham side that were made to look like amateurs by its one-time rivals for the fourth spot. No longer can Spurs compete with the oil-rich City.
Having previously been content with a Champions League spot, the Eastlands club must now have their sights set on riches far greater than merely the opportunity to rub shoulders with Europe’s elite – Mancini’s mandate will surely be to win it, despite being the club’s debut in the competition. Those still questioning City’s title credentials before the demolition of Spurs must now consider Roberto Mancini’s side serious challengers – home and abroad.
City again spent big during the summer transfer window, investing a further £75 million in their star-studded side, and now boasts one of the most talented squads in world football. The additions of Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri from Atletico Madrid and Arsenal respectively underlines the club’s intent and also signals a change in philosophy from Mancini.
Last season the Italian was lambasted for, well, being too Italian. Often adopting a defensive approach on away days, Mancini’s tactics and team selections were regularly criticized for being too negative, given the wealth of attacking options at his disposal. Having met and exceeded last season’s targets though, Mancini’s critics were silenced. Last year’s game plan now looks less negative, but rather pragmatic.
There was nothing pragmatic about City’s demolition of Spurs however, nor their flying start to the new campaign. Caution has been well and truly thrown to the wind as City are beginning to display the sort of flair and gusto that Mancini was so celebrated for during his playing days. When quizzed about his side’s performance during the post-match interview, Mancini was more concerned with berating his side’s defensive capabilities after allowing the opposition to score from a set piece, rather than praising his players for hammering Spurs away from home. But inside, the stern-faced Italian must surely have been grinning with mouth-watering excitement at the potential successes he can lead his team to this season, and beyond.
The emphatic drubbing of Spurs suggests that City’s transformation from the big spending pretenders to genuine Premier League title challengers is all but complete, and a cap must be doffed toward the direction of Mr Mancini for sticking to his principles, despite staunch criticism and the undoubted temptation to please, during what has been a transitional period for the club. Entering his second full season in charge of a squad now harboring many of his own signings, Mancini has cut the brakes and City are leaking fluid football, with devastating consequences. Their convincing victory over Tottenham two weeks ago conveyed a clear and very real indication of City’s progress over the last twelve months.
The two sides met on the opening weekend of last season for the corresponding fixture. City lined up with Carlos Tevez playing as a lone striker as part of a vigilant 4-5-1 formation. Mancini’s objective; to leave White Hart Lane with a point. It finished 0-0 and Mancini got his point, and would have been mightily relieved to have done so, because but for a fine goalkeeping display from Joe Hart, the cautious City would have returned to Manchester empty-handed. One year on and the England number one’s gloves were barely dirtied; his most strenuous task was to bend down and pick the ball out of his net. This time around City had no intention of settling for a point. The rear-guard action has been discarded.
With the talisman of the last two seasons relegated to the bench, Edin Dzeko spearheads the attack, complemented by an attacking triumvirate with an abundance of guile and panache, capable of unlocking the tightest of defences in a split second. ‘Boring, boring City’ was the sarcastic mimicry echoing from the away corner as Dzeko completed his hat trick. Every goal celebrated with a sense of togetherness. A team spirit, undoubtedly galvanized by May’s FA Cup victory, that has, perhaps, been missing in recent seasons, is now evident. The volatile characters of Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy are out of the club and morale appears high – even Tevez has admitted he could have a future in Manchester.
With maximum points and twelve goals from their opening three games, City have delivered a message to their Premier League title rivals (early indications suggest that might only be Manchester United) that they are serious heirs to the throne. An exciting season almost certainly awaits the city of Manchester, but which half will be smiling come May, Red or Blue?
– Nicholas Godden