Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League as Riyad Mahrez’s early goal gave them victory over Tottenham in a scrappy encounter on a Wembley surface scarred by Sunday’s NFL game.
Former Leicester City forward Mahrez, who swept home Raheem Sterling’s sixth-minute cross, dedicated his goal to Foxes owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was killed in a helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium after Saturday’s game with West Ham.
It settled a match made more difficult by a Wembley pitch still bearing the markings and after-effects of the NFL encounter between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
City deserved the win and could have avoided an anxious finale had David Silva and Sterling taken second-half opportunities, while Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris saved twice from Sergio Aguero.
Tottenham were restricted to limited opportunities but could have rescued a point late on, only for Erik Lamela to waste a golden opportunity in front of an open goal from substitute Dele Alli’s pass.
City go ahead of Liverpool on goal difference with both teams on 26 points from 10 games.
‘A win on which title campaigns are built’
Manchester City sent out another message to those wishing to take their Premier League crown with a win of real significance.
Pep Guardiola prides himself and his team on their purist approach but this was a night for doing some of the dirty work on a poor playing surface against opponents wishing to make a statement of their own after the latest disappointment in their Champions League campaign.
City came out of the blocks fast to score the early goal through Mahrez and set the platform for a deserved win.
If there was a flaw in City’s performance it was a lack of ruthlessness that should have seen the three points secured before an anxious finale, especially in a second-half spell when they over-elaborated.
They showed they have steel in among the artistry as defenders John Stones and Aymeric Laporte, both more than happy to be uncompromising, complemented the silkier approach of David Silva and Bernardo Silva.
City’s win was the sort on which title-winning campaigns are built and they are on top of the Premier League after an opening 10 games that have included visits to Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs.
Spurs struggle for inspiration
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino said in the build-up to this game: “My feeling is the worst feeling I have had in my five years I have been here.”
Pochettino’s dark mood may be the result of delays in the move to Spurs’ new stadium, no summer signings and a Champions League campaign that has started with two defeats and a draw.
And he will hardly be in better humour after this.
This was a night of frustration for Spurs as they struggled to make any serious inroads into Manchester City’s defence until that late spell and the miss from Lamela.
Wembley was nowhere near full, with thousands of empty seats, especially around the top tier, while Spurs fans are still coming to terms with the news that one of their icons, Glenn Hoddle, is currently recovering from a heart attack.
The players came out to an almost eerie silence after a difficult few days for the football community and the atmosphere was subdued throughout.
Spurs missed the invention of Christian Eriksen and Alli, currently only fit enough to be on the bench, although there was a lively contribution from the other substitute Harry Winks.
They could have snatched a point in the closing phases as they were left to rue Lamela’s wayward finish – but the brutal truth is that Spurs have now lost to both Liverpool and Manchester City at home and look nowhere near title challengers.
Wembley surface spoils the spectacle
The sight of the battle-scarred Wembley surface – complete with NFL pitch markings – did not bode well for an eagerly awaited spectacle.
It had an ugly appearance, with both flanks looking bare and the pitch an open invitation for a series of wisecracks about NFL, but there was nothing funny about the impact on this game.
Players from both sides occasionally looked like they did not trust the surface and there was no question there was an understandable element of safety first about some of the defending.
NFL may help pay the bills and draw the crowds but it did nothing to assist two teams renowned for their fluent, passing football.