City 8/13 to qualify for Champions League semis – and out to 10/3 to win the trophy

The bottom line regarding Manchester City’s first leg Champions League quarter-final against Spurs in the capital, in their gleaming new stadium, is that the Londoners won 1-0. That’s the easy bit. Explaining what went on before and during might take a little longer in the telling.

Pep Guardiola surprised many with his team selection. Riyad Mahrez, who hasn’t really fired since his expensive move from Leicester City, started. He ‘starts’ on the right, whereas with Leicester, the proverbial big fish in the smaller pond, he seemed to pretty much appear wherever he liked. With generally devastating effect.

An impudent goal at the Etihad against City no less in Leicester’s glorious title run, on Feb 6th, 2016 to be precise, summed up his PFA Player of the Year award-winning season perfectly. Crashed home from what was known in old money as the inside-left channel; and with his right foot.

What City would give to have THAT Riyad Mahrez in their ranks right now. Guardiola praised him afterwards for his contribution. He was ok. He’s capable of far more than ‘ok.’ City need a great deal more than ok.

Fabian Delph, returning from injury, was given the nod at left-back – a decision that was to prove catastrophic, but more of that later.

Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne, most notably, were to begin the evening on the bench; with City fielding not one but two holding midfielders, in Fernandinho and Gundogan. Bernardo was said to be nursing a small niggle, and wouldn’t be risked. How he was missed.

To second-guess Guardiola is a tricky business, but it’s easy to imagine how much of a strain this ridiculous fixture list is placing on the club. Not only do the games come thick and fast, but they are all must-win, high-pressure, so-much-at-stake affairs. Husbanding and marshalling resources is a key part of Pep’s job. Each of these individual Cup finals carries amazing significance, and players get injured. Lose form. Need rest.

The acid test would be if his restructured, more passive and cautious XI could emerge from London intact. They didn’t. Guardiola’s pragmatism surely stems from being stung by Liverpool in the away leg of this very competition this time last year. However, I have news – Spurs are no Liverpool. Not by the width of the Mersey. At one of its wider points.

City played perfectly reasonably, and ended the match with a lion’s share 59% of the possession. Sergio Aguero missed a crucial penalty in the 13th minute with an effort he’ll never want to look upon again; and the aforementioned Delph, busy appealing to the officials instead of doing his job, allowed Son to twist and turn and somehow fire Tottenham ahead with 12 minutes to go (pictured above).

Ederson, who had been clattered earlier and was still probably feeling the effects, would surely have saved the shot nine times out of ten. It was that kind of night, in spades.

City were in absolute cruise control when Spurs scored, and their shock at falling behind was palpable. Guardiola made a late, defiant gesture, sending on KDB and Sane with a whole minute of regular time to play, but the upset was complete. And it was an upset. Spurs played admirably, in underdog mode for the most part, and pulled it off. City cantered along on the bridle, but dropped hands, and got mugged in the photo.

The hugely-gifted coach had a patchy first season at the Etihad, and an absolutely stratospheric second. His third may yet turn out to be even better, but Spurs MUST be put to the sword next week in the return leg, or the caution and excessive respect shown last night, along with some eyebrow-raising selections, will haunt him, and baffle many, for a very long time.

That 8/13 looks gilt-edged to me.

(slight adjustment on the ‘Quad,’ too – out to 9/2!)

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