An FA Cup classic had been expected. Instead it took a scruffy goal from Manchester City centre-back Nathan Ake with two minutes to go to help the holders beat Tottenham Hotspur.
Chances had been few and far between and even Kevin De Bruyne proved he was human. After a stunning cameo away to Newcastle United on his measured return he missed a glaring chance in the final 15 minutes. The Belgium playmaker came off the bench again and fired wide from 12 yards with the goal gaping.
A replay at the Etihad looked on the cards until Ake poked home from a De Bruyne corner — the goal given after a VAR check as Tottenham appealed for a foul on Guglielmo Vicario.
The Athletic’s Jack Pitt-Brooke and Sam Lee analysed the action.
What curse at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium?
There was obviously no Tottenham Hotspur Stadium curse (please find a proper name for this ground) for Manchester City, they have just played teams who like to soak up pressure and play on the break, at times when they have been fairly weak at either end. And this game looked a bit like that for a lot of the time.
City were fine defensively it must be said but they were not clinical enough (or lucky enough with the Oscar Bobb disallowed goal) to get the goal that they could easily have scored — and never more so than when De Bruyne was presented with all the time in the world after a mistake at the back from Spurs, only for him to plant the ball wide.
At that moment it looked like the same old story for Guardiola’s men, until Ake poked home from that late corner. You won’t find many City fans who would have felt confident during the VAR check, but the curse could not extend that far.
How important is Van de Ven to Spurs?
There has been plenty of talk recently about the importance of James Maddison to Spurs, during his long ankle injuy lay-off, or Son Heung-min during the Asian Cup, or Cristian Romero during his various suspensions.
But this was a reminder than Micky van de Ven, who cost £43 million plus adds on from Wolfsburg in the summer, remains as important to Tottenham as anyone. It was only his second game back after more than two months out with a hamstring injury but he is changing how Spurs play.
The 22-year-old Netherlands defender has remarkable recovery pace, eating up ground with that long stride of his, that Spurs can defend high up the pitch, squeezing the game, safe in the knowledge that Van de Ven can cover anyone breaking in behind him.
He was excellent, making crucial interceptions, not least a perfect tackle on Julian Alvarez just as he was about to put City ahead early in the second half.
How long can City keep Ortega?
There was a bit of proper-football-man opprobrium before the FA Cup final in June, because some felt that keeping Ederson on the bench and sticking with Stefan Ortega, who had played in previous rounds, was a risky decision.
But aside from any thoughts about Ortega’s morale if he was suddenly switched out of the team for a huge game in City’s season, the German is simply a very good goalkeeper. He does not play anywhere near as much as his quality suggests. Finding the right No 2 is tricky business and often you end up with options who are not good enough, but City have found themselves in the opposite scenario: Ortega is probably too good and there will be no shortage of offers come the summer.
His composure on the ball and decision making, combined with the fact he is very good at the old fashioned goalkeeper stuff, make him a fine option for Guardiola.
What has happened to Spurs’ cutting edge?
There were some positive aspects to this Spurs performance, as they found their feet after a shaky start and steadily grew into the game. But the one thing glaringly lacking from it was quality in the final third. Spurs didn’t have a single shot in the first half and while they were more on top second half they never looked like scoring.
The closest they came was Timo Werner playing in Brennan Johnson, who was blocked by the onrushing Ortega. And that was that. Even when James Maddison came on as a second-half substitute Spurs could not carve out the quality of chance required to win the game. Clearly they will need Maddison to get settled back into the team fast, because no-one else here can do what he does.
And they will need Son Heung-min back from the Asian Cup, because right now there is no real cutting edge in their frontline. Because with the starting 11 from this game, Spurs will struggle to score enough goals.
What did the managers say?
We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.
What next for Tottenham?
Wednesday, January 31: Brentford (H), Premier League, 7.30pm GMT, 2.30pm ET
Spurs are going for a fourth home league win in a row but have managed to beat Brentford only once in five meetings since the latter’s promotion to the Premier League in 2021, and are winless against them in the past four, losing once and drawing the rest.
What next for Manchester City?
Wednesday, January 31: Burnley (H), Premier League, 7.30pm GMT, 2.30pm ET
Trips to the Etihad Stadium should come with an 18 certificate for Burnley fans, the results recently have been so blood-curdling. They have lost their last eight matches there, across all competitions, by a combined score of 35 goals to one (Ashley Barnes — January 6, 2018; fact fans).
(Top photo: Ake celebrates his late winner)