It was a memorable afternoon at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday after Son Heung-min’s excellent second-half strike got Nuno Espirito Santo’s era at the club off to the perfect start.
Spurs faced a daunting task on paper, welcoming Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City who’d not only proven to be the best side in the country last season, but who had also added further talents to their star-studded squad this summer, such as Jack Grealish.
City’s new £100m midfielder was handed his first start for the champions, however, he and his teammates struggled to impose themselves in a way many predicted, thanks in large to the strong performances by a number of key Tottenham individuals.
Spurs’ eventual victory gave Guardiola his first-ever sequence of four consecutive competitive away losses to one opponent. A run made that bit more remarkable given that his side failed to score a single goal in any of those clashes.
Although never easy against this current Man City side, there was tentative confidence amongst Spurs fans before kick-off that Espirito Santo could be the perfect coach to get something out of Sunday’s game.
He’d shown during his time in charge of Wolves that he could organise a team to remain defensively robust and difficult to penetrate, whilst also carrying a dangerous threat on the counter in moments when the ball is turned over.
With the likes of Son in the side, that threat at Spurs was set to be enhanced, and sure enough, it was through a fast break and clinical finish from the South Korean star that the game was settled.
Yet, whilst Spurs were happy to give up the bulk of possession and territory to their visitors, the game was far less of a smash and grab success in comparison to their other more recent victories against the North West side.
This is particularly the case when looking at the two most recent Premier League clashes vs City where Guardiola’s men accumulated 35 shots, nine of which hit the target and generated a combined Expected Goals (xG) total of 4.06.
Spurs in response hit a combined total of seven shots, with five hitting the target, and an xG of just 0.86. A case could therefore be made that they were rather fortunate to come out with wins on both occasions.
On Sunday though, for all City’s ball dominance, there was little between the two sides when it actually came to chances created. The visitors took 16 shots, four of which hit the target, whilst Spurs managed 13 shots and only one less on target. City allowed more shots on their goal only once across the whole of the last Premier League season.
Furthermore, according to Wyscout, both had an almost identical xG – 1.43 for Spurs and 1.48 for City.
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What this shows is that whilst Spurs may have looked to have adopted a defensive approach at a glance, it was actually the perfect tactic deployed by Espirito Santo.
Because not only did it deliver the most important thing, a positive result, but you could say Spurs were also good value for it, rarely put in a position where their backs were against the wall or finding themselves under a heavy siege of pressure, despite City’s dominance of the ball.
Different tests lie ahead for Espirito Santo and his side, but there’s no doubt this was one of the toughest they’ll face in the campaign, and to come away from it with a worthy win does now give them a platform for a strong season ahead.