Man City 4-3 Spurs (agg 4-4): Mauricio Pochettino’s side reach Champions League semi-finals for first time in 57 years after stunning game
ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER — An elbow, a hip: it doesn’t matter how they go in. Fernando Llorente scored the scrappiest of winners to decide the the most breathtaking of games.
What a moment for Tottenham Hotspur and their manager Mauricio Pochettino: into a Champions League semi-final against Ajax despite two barren transfer windows and without a proper place to call home all season.
A Herculean effort in a Herculean season. A thrilling 4-3 defeat on the night which was enough to see them through and end Manchester City’s quadruple dreams — and their progress in the one competition Pep Guardiola and their owners are desperate to win.
For so long, it seemed impossible that it would end this way. Spurs appeared short of options when Moussa Sissoko came off injured late in the first-half. Where City had John Stones, Leroy Sane, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus on the bench (an embarrassment of substitutes), Pochettino was forced to turn to the tall, 34-year-old Spaniard with only 12 goals to his name in two seasons. And six of them came against Rochdale and Tranmere.
Then two huge VAR calls decided a game with a breathless beginning and an almost inconceivable end.
21 minutes of madness
It began like an uber competitive Powerleague five-a-side match: 11 minutes, four goals, heavy touches, amateur defending. The only thing it was missing was one of the subs having a fag break on the touchline.
Four minutes: Kieran Trippier stood off Raheem Sterling so the City forward bent one into the right of Hugo Lloris’s goal.
Seven minutes: Aymeric Laporte on the edge of City’s penalty area dangled a leg weakly at a misplaced Dele Alli through ball, sending it straight to Son Heung-min, who in turn shot straight at Ederson, only for the ball to bobble under the goalkeeper’s leg.
10 minutes: Laporte, displaying legs of stone, made the heaviest touch you can imagine on halfway, gifting the ball to Lucas Moura and setting Spurs on the counter, the move eventually reaching Son who curled the ball in.
11 minutes: Sergio Aguero fed Bernardo Silva in the right channel and his shot across goal took a heavy deflection through Danny Rose’s legs and snuck in at Lloris’s near post.
And breathe: 11 minutes of the most lung collapsing football imaginable — and there they were, back at square one, City still needed two goals to go through and Spurs were in the semis against Ajax if they held out.
Then there were 10 whole minutes without a goal and you suddenly felt empty and lost, and slightly confused. So this is what football was like before they scored once every two minutes and 45 seconds. Back to some kind of normality.
Then Sterling scored again — back to some kind of normality: his 29th strike of the season. It was one of those goals where the assist was better than the actual finish. Kevin de Bruyne, looking almost back to his ethereal best, somehow managed to angle the ball 20 yards along the ground from the right-hand side through the thinnest of channels between Lloris and Tottenham’s back line, and Sterling converted at the back post. It was the first time in history two different players scored twice within the first 21 minutes of a Champions League game.
City onslaught and (more) VAR controversy
Sergio Aguero’s goal had been coming. Where Spurs had constantly looked like making something happen in the first half, they could only welcome the onslaught.
Lloris had already pulled off a one-hander to deny De Bruyne as City poured forward like untouchable molten lava. There was little Tottenham’s goalkeeper could do as Aguero thrashed one past him.
Spurs honestly seemed out of the game at that stage, until Llorente bundled in Trippier’s corner on 73 minutes. There was a long wait while the referee checked with the VAR for one of the technology’s biggest calls to date.
But the technology wasn’t done there, when Sterling struck in stoppage time. City went wild, everyone: the whole stadium falling over each other in the stands, Guardiola, the players. Sterling’s treble seemed to mean The Quadruple was still on. But from nowhere, on the big screen in one corner, VAR ruled it out for offside, somewhere in the build-up. A game ended by a few words on a big screen.