close
close

Manchester City finally have ‘the moment’ courtesy of Stefan Ortega

If Manchester City beat Tottenham in the same ruthless way they beat everyone else, it would have been good for them.

If they had gone through the whole season and won the Premier League title without a ‘moment’, they wouldn’t have minded it at all.

But they got their moment now. If their victory over Tottenham, perhaps the entire season, can be boiled down to one incident, it is Son Heung-min’s one-on-one with Stefan Ortega with three minutes remaining.

Had he scored, City would have had 13 minutes (including 10 extra) to get off the pitch and try to find a winner that would have kept the title in their hands until Sunday. It might have succeeded, it might have created even more drama – but we’ll never know.

Pep Guardiola was on his back. He was on the floor, literally, before Son kicked.

Very often he will fall to his feet during a season if a team is on the counter attack or about to throw a set piece or if his centre-back has left a loose ball to his goalkeeper, which happened in the final Champions League last summer.


Guardiola congratulates Ortega (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

This time the title flashed before his eyes as the excellent Manuel Akanji broke free and allowed Spurs a clear run at goal. Guardiola hit the deck and while Son weighed up his options, the City boss watched events unfold from the back.

On Monday, he was asked about Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous (albeit misquoted) phrase “creaking time”. He had no idea what it meant. He says he does now.

Make no mistake, it wasn’t just a City moment. It’s a clip that will be played over and over forever, woven into the very fabric of Premier League lore.

It may not have the same gravity as Steven Gerrard’s slip-up, but in a title race that has so far been characterized by City wins and wins, with Arsenal bouncing back from defeat to Aston Villa by winning matches, could be the defining moment.

Because if Son had scored, the title would have been in Arsenal’s hands and Spurs, their rivals, would have given it to them.

“Ortega saves stocks, otherwise Arsenal are champions, that’s the reality,” Guardiola said. “That’s the reality.”

A save will never count as much as a goal in terms of footballing moments, but for City this was their season there and then.

It’s a moment that ensures hundreds more over the course of the season — Erling Haaland’s goals, Kevin De Bruyne’s assists, Phil Foden’s winners, Nathan Ake’s blocks, Rodri’s everything — will most likely count for something.

Such has been City’s relentless run to this point – they haven’t lost a league game in over five months – some people have complained that it’s boring, that there’s no danger in the title race.

This ignores the fact that after City drew with Arsenal at the end of March, both Arsenal and Liverpool were on the rise until they both lost – at home – on the same day. There were huge twists and turns. The problem, for some, was that those turnarounds don’t happen to City.


Ortega’s save will be the defining moment of this season (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

And nothing changed on Tuesday in that regard.

Minutes after Ortega’s save, Jeremy Doku won a penalty for City. As Haaland waited to take it, the fourth official indicated that 10 minutes would be added. If Haaland had missed from the spot, then those 10 minutes would have been the most difficult of the season.

The Norwegians put City 1-0 up, but while that normally gives them control, they seemed happy to take what they had, leading to several uncertain passages of play where they kept giving away Spurs ball.

Kyle Walker admitted afterwards that he hadn’t slept on Monday night and City seemed to appreciate how important this game was – they were certainly nervous.

But Haaland scored the penalty. He normally goes low and the last time he went high was against Bayern Munich last season. Then he released the crossbar. This time he buried it and the game was almost over.

Maybe the title is almost ready too. With all the noise around the Spurs game, with many of their fans wanting the game to go away, there was an incredible amount of focus on him and he became the biggest obstacle. Spurs, however, held up their end of the bargain and made life very uncomfortable for City.

Walker’s scrappy night — he said he was excited to start the game — shows just how important he has become.


Guardiola is already expressing concern for Sunday (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

West Ham at home on Sunday look set to pale into insignificance, but Guardiola is already warning of difficulties. He has three good examples up his sleeve, two concerning his own team: two years ago, they were 2-0 up against Aston Villa in a game they were expected to win. In 2012, they were 2-1 up to QPR going into stoppage time.

“Tennis players say the serve to win Wimbledon (is the most difficult),” he said on Tuesday night. “The last game is the most difficult, it happened against Aston Villa – and years ago when Sergio Aguero scored after 93 minutes 20 seconds against QPR.

“Now (we have to) be calm and think about Antonio, Kudus, Bowen, Ward-Prowse and what we have to do.”

Another game between City and more immortality, but it’s only because of that moment, the biggest of the season so far.

(Top photo — Ortega saves from Son: Getty Images)