34 days after the World Cup final – competitive football as we know it – is back. Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City – last season’s rivals in the race for fourth-place – which was ultimately won by Tottenham – got the 2010/11 Premier League season underway this afternoon in a fascinating encounter at White Hart lane. Spurs have been somewhat an achilles heel for City in recent seasons – having beaten the Manchester side in their last four Premier League clashes both home and away, along with Spurs winning their last six home games against City. But it didn’t go Spurs way today with the two sides sharing the spoils.
As was widely reported in the build up to the game, Joe Hart took his place in the Manchester City goal which saw last season’s number one – Shay Given – drop to the bench in what could be the end to his career with the club with Mancini admitting before that game that is was “difficult” to choose between the two. City gave Premier League debuts to left-back Aleksandar Kolarov, Yaya Toure and Spanish international David Silva. On the other hand, Tottenham named an all too familiar starting-11 with all returning names from last season of Gomes, King, Dawson, Bale et al.
Both sides made an exciting start to the game but it was undoubtedly Spurs who looked more likely to create something and with City looking poor going forward their defence and in particular, keeper, Joe Hart needed to be on their toes. Arguably, Harry Redknapp’s side should have four or five goals to the good by half-time. Peter Crouch, Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale and Jermaine Defoe all went close, but Hart, England’s number one, showed that Mancini was correct in picking him by showcasing some outstanding saves. By the same token, Gareth Bale was in scintillating form for Spurs, continuing on where he left off last season down that left-wing, tearing City’s Micah Richards a new one with every attack.
Such was Manchester City’s formation; one could be forgiven for thinking that they were playing a strikerless 4-6-0 at times because of Carlos Tevez dropping so deep into midfield. At times, it also resembled a 4-3-2-1 with Barry, De Jong and Yaya Toure playing as defensive midfielders. Whatever it was, it simply did not work for City in the first-half, certainly in the second they looked a lot brighter, but never looked likely to get the ball pas Gomes and into the back of the Spurs net.
City carried little threat as their midfield and they failed to retain the ball on many occasions while also lacked creativity and attacking intent. Both managers rotated their sides coming towards the final 20 minutes – Wright-Phillips went off for City to be replaced by his fellow countryman Adam Johnson, while Crouch and Defoe departed for Tottenham to be replace by Keane and Pavlyuchenko, Redknapp with one eye on the Champions League qualifier against Young Boys in mid-week.
Spurs could have sealed the points seven minutes from time – Keane could not get his feet right to hit Pavlyuchenko’s cross but the ball came free to Gareth Bale, only for the Welshman to fall over his laces in front of an open goal. Tottenham should have won this game – the main reason they didn’t was as a result of some top-class goalkeeping from Joe Hart. Harry Redknapp will see it as two points dropped, while Roberto Mancini will no doubt settle for a point after a torrid afternoon. Not so much to worry about from Redknapp’s point of view, Mancini on the other hand will need formulate his attacking options instead of favouring a more defensive approach.