Phil Foden’s first Premier League goal returned Manchester City to the top of the table as they overcame Champions League conquerors Tottenham at Etihad Stadium.
The 18-year-old’s diving header, created by Sergio Aguero, after only five minutes ensured the reigning champions maintained the pressure on rivals Liverpool before their match at Cardiff City on Sunday.
It was, however, a nervous performance in a game a far cry from the drama of Wednesday’s European game here as City relied on goalkeeper Ederson to make several crucial saves. They also lost key midfielder Kevin de Bruyne to injury.
Foden gave City the perfect start but Ederson thwarted Son Heung-min on three occasions and saved well from Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura. Son was also denied by a magnificent tackle by Aymeric Laporte.
Raheem Sterling had City’s best chance after the break, only to be frustrated by the outstretched leg of Spurs keeper Paulo Gazzaniga – in for injured Hugo Lloris – but Pep Guardiola’s side held on to move a point clear of Liverpool with four games left.
Guardiola’s men dig deep
The joy at the final whistle was a mixture of celebration and relief. This was a huge win for City and everyone inside the Etihad knew it.
City needed to pick themselves up instantly after the crushing disappointment of their Champions League exit in the knowledge that one slip, even if it came in the shape of a draw, could hand the title to Liverpool.
This was not the fluent City that is their trademark. The other qualities that can make champions came to the fore here – concentration, determination, heart, resilience and character.
Man City will ‘fight until the end’ for title
And it was in abundant supply throughout the team, from Ederson’s outstanding saves, Laporte’s priceless tackle on Son and in the outstanding performances of Foden and Bernardo Silva.
Foden showed maturity beyond his years, even apart from his winner, demanding the ball, taking responsibility and directing more experienced players. It is early days but the evidence is clear that he is a special talent.
Silva simply gets better, the ideal combination of limitless energy and creative skill, all employed within the Guardiola framework.
The only downside, a considerable one, was that injury to De Bruyne, which, judging from the player’s reaction, may be a problem that threatens his participation in the rest of the season.
This City win will not earn maximum marks for artistic merit, but they did exactly what was needed after the traumatic Champions League exit as they recorded their 10th Premier League win in a row.
Spurs felt City received a generous decision from referee Michael Oliver in the second half when they appealed for handball against Kyle Walker as he challenged with Dele Alli – but it is three points and on to the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Wednesday.