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Manchester City got their Premier League title defence off to a poor start as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Tottenham on Sunday afternoon.
City arrived in north London with an embarrassment of riches – a starting XI worth over £500million and a bench pushing £350m – but left with more questions than answers.
Pep Guardiola’s side looked strangely blunt in possession and wide open in defence as Son Heung-min more than made up for Harry Kane’s absence with the game’s only goal.
It was a perfect start to life as Tottenham manager for Nuno Espirito Santo, but a head-scratching first Premier League game of the 2021/22 season for Guardiola.
Here are the three things Guardiola learned in a disappointing season-opener.
No dream debut for Grealish
All eyes were on Jack Grealish as the teams came out of the tunnel at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with everyone keen to see what a £100m player could provide.
Grealish’s talent has never been in doubt, but the way in which his new star-studded side would use him was in question.
The former Aston Villa man lined up on the left-hand side of Guardiola’s 4-3-3 formation, given licence to roam and interchange with Raheem Sterling and Benjamin Mendy.
The opening stages were typically bright, with Japhet Tanganga and Oliver Skipp constantly involved in tussles for possession.
It took just three minutes for Grealish to win his first foul in a sky blue shirt as he breezed past Skipp, who tripped him on the edge of the box.
But while there were plenty of bursts of pace and jinking runs from the England international, they decreased in frequency as the game went on.
Ultimately it was Tanganga who left the pitch to a hearty round of applause when he was substituted in the final 10 minutes, while Grealish had to make do with a late yellow card.
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After early domination of the ball, City began to look vulnerable on the counter-attack as Nuno took a note from Jose Mourinho’s play book.
Time after time Steven Bergwijn, Son and Lucas Moura combined on the break, charging at City’s retreating back line. But time after time they spurned the openings.
Eventually, Spurs took one, with Son curling into the bottom corner after Nathan Ake backed off and Ruben Dias got himself tangled up trying to block the shot.
With John Stones and Aymeric Laporte available as part of a hugely-expensive nine-man bench, you couldn’t help but wonder if Guardiola had selected the wrong side.
"The selection today was more thinking of the guys that have been here since the beginning,” Guardiola explained to Sky Sports before kick-off.
“Two days ago was the first time we were all together. Some guys get [into] condition quicker.”
Guardiola’s trademark rotation will surely be in full effect come their match against Norwich on Saturday.
The need for Kane
Kane was conspicuous by his absence on Sunday afternoon, with Nuno claiming it was a simple case of a lack of match fitness.
The Spurs striker has been agitating for a move to Man City – and while Tottenham did not miss their talismanic striker too much – Guardiola’s need for him was clear.
With the only striker in the squad, Gabriel Jesus, left out of the starting line-up, it was up to Ferran Torres to lead the line alongside Sterling and Riyad Mahrez.
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The young Spaniard showed his qualities last season, but he does not provide City with a focal point – or, as it turns out, lethal finishing.
Searching for an equaliser, City took a quick free-kick in the 70th minute, with Joao Cancelo sending an inch-perfect cross into the six-yard box for Torres, who could not divert his shot on goal.
It was to be their best chance of the game, with Mahrez’s skewed volley and substitute Kevin De Bruyne’s saved drive about as close as they came.
With 16 days left until the transfer deadline, City will surely step up their efforts to land Kane.
- Manchester City FC
- Pep Guardiola
- Tottenham Hotspur FC
- Premier League
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