Sunday’s meeting between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City lived up to its billing as the most hotly anticipated match of the weekend in the Premier League, but the drama wasn’t solely down to the players on the field.
As has been the case time after time in England’s top flight this season, officiating once again played a central role in a high-profile match — not that it took anything away from Spurs’ 2-0 win over 10-man City in London.
Tottenham deserved the victory, even if its two goals came on its first two shots in the contest, and even if both of those shots came after referee Mike Dean had sent off City defender Oleksandr Zinchenko for a second bookable offense.
The hosts took advantage almost immediately after Zinchenko’s red card, with newly signed Dutch winger Steven Bergwijn scoring a peach of a goal on his debut for the club:
Son Heung-min would double the lead just eight minutes later, effectively sealing the three points:
The Video Assistant Referee, or VAR, was front and center from the start of this one. Early in the contest, Dean showed City’s Raheem Sterling a caution for a studs-up challenge on Dele Alli. Spurs manager Jose Mourinho was livid after seeing the replays, but VAR determined after review that the ugly tackle didn’t warrant a red card.
Later in the first half, Spurs defender Serge Aurier took down Sergio Aguero inside the penalty area. The visitors appealed for a penalty, but Dean signaled repeatedly that Aurier had won the ball. Play continued for close to two minutes before the video assistant alerted Dean that Aurier had in fact clipped Aguero, sending Ilkay Gundogan to the penalty spot.
Hugo Lloris dove to his left to make the save — was he off his line? — but more controversy ensued when Raheem Sterling beat Lloris to the rebound, prompting another round of penalty calls from the visitors while Spurs players and fans admonished Sterling for diving.
This time VAR favored the hosts, with a second spot-kick not given. Sterling somehow still avoided a booking for simulation, much to Mourinho’s chagrin. Little did he realize the match had turned.
City never really recovered after squandering the penalty. Pep Guardiola’s side was unusually sloppy on the day. Had they been a bit sharper, this one would’ve been over early. Not even the benefit of some 50-50 calls was enough to get them over the hump.
Spurs, meantime, hung in there and were rewarded for that determination, with Bergwijn and Giovani Lo Celso slotting into Mourinho’s team seamlessly. That’s also one of the big storylines in this game. Thanks to Dean and the VAR crew, it’s just not quite the biggest one.
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