Manchester City moved top of the Premier League tonight after edging past a wasteful Tottenham in a curiously underwhelming clash at Wembley.
Riyad Mahrez scored the game’s only goal after six minutes, with both sides then largely struggling to tame the scarred pitch at Spurs’ temporary home.
Here’s what we learned as unbeaten City got the better of homesick Tottenham.
Before the match we all knew what to expect. With just 30 hours between Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars’ NFL match and Monday night’s Premier League clash at Wembley some wear and tear was understandable.
But the extent of the damage should come as an embarrassment to Spurs, who have already endured more than their fair share this season with their new stadium still not complete.
The NFL logo was visible in Wembley’s centre circle, with a large brown strip down the middle of the pitch where the majority of American football’s action takes place, while the sport’s distance markings were also conspicuous.
It was not a setting befitting a clash between two of English football’s brightest and most creative sides.
The poor state of the pitch certainly affected the match’s quality, with heavy touches, bobbling passes and misjudgements common.
Both sides fashioned chances, yet the overriding experience for the majority of the 56,854 spectators was one of frustration and disappointment, not goalmouth action.
Moussa Sissoko charged around with plenty of endeavour but no end product, both side’s full-backs – so often one of their key attacking weapons – were off the boil, while even City’s creative magician David Silva was guilty of a clumsy touch in front of goal which should have seen City go 2-0 up.
Raheem Sterling is still only 23 years old. But despite his youth the England forward was making his 200th Premier League appearance tonight.
And it was only fitting on such a milestone that Sterling made the difference for Man City. He started the game like a man possessed, frequently flying down the left-hand side.
While it was ultimately a poor mistake by Kieran Trippier that let him in – the Spurs right-back missing a routine header from a long ball – it was Sterling who skinned his international team mate twice before setting up Mahrez to side-foot in the early goal.
The set-up means Sterling now has four goals and three assists this campaign, taking his tally to 53 goals and 60 assists in the Premier League since his debut way back in the 2011-12 season. Not bad for a player so often unfairly criticised.
Three of City’s back four – Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker – had largely poor games characterised by sloppy errors and yet Spurs were unable to punish them.
The hosts managed just four attempts, with one on target, as City recorded a sixth successive league clean sheet and their fourth win at Wembley this year.
Harry Kane fired narrowly over from distance after John Stones backed off and also spurned a one-on-one with a heavy touch allowing Ederson out to tackle him.
But the worst miss came from Erik Lamela, who spooned a shot over the crossbar when played through perfectly by substitute Dele Alli on 79 minutes after Mahrez had been robbed of possession.
Man for the occasion
While the conditions and prevailing mood didn’t suit most, it was custom-made for City’s often underrated man Fernandinho.
The Brazilian holding midfielder is arguably Pep Guardiola’s most important player – tasked with breaking up play and anchoring the otherwise attack-minded midfield.
Fernandinho does the dirty work so well and thwarted Spurs by any means necessary tonight, fouling Lamela to prevent a break before getting back to cut out Sissoko’s cross after Mendy’s mistake in the first half.
He was booked for a cynical clattering of Lucas Moura on 60 minutes, but it just underlined his role as the selfless workman in the defending champions’ side.