Jeremy Doku isn&apost just in the Manchester City team to create chances, his direct style is also helping Pep Guardiola get more noise from the stands. Guardiola has asked for more from the supporters in the last two weeks, while being extremely careful with his words on what can be a sensitive topic.
He has a good relationship with the City faithful, though, and the headlines generated about Guardiola&aposs cries for more noise often ignore the wider context, which is that Guardiola completely respects why some games may be quieter than others and that ultimately it is up to the team to give fans something to get behind. That is where Doku comes in, with the Belgian capable of getting fans off their seats.
From the first minute against Spurs, Doku picked the ball up around the halfway line with space to run into, and the noise around the Etihad rose considerably in anticipation. Every time Doku got the ball in similar positions, the fans expected something to happen. Sometimes it didn&apost work, and sometimes it did – like for Foden&aposs goal – but he is a player capable of unpredictability and of making things happen.
So when Guardiola wants his players to give the supporters a reason to get behind the side, Doku could be the way to do that. He will keep attacking because it&aposs the only thing he knows how to do, and the fans already love him for it.
It&aposs worth noting that City fans backed the team when it was needed after Doku&aposs substitution and after Tottenham&aposs second, proving Guardiola&aposs relationship with the fans is exaggerated as more of a story than it is. Still, the manager will always look for marginal gains and the atmosphere is no exception, so players like Doku can help get what he wants from the City supporters this season.
Pep leans into City-Spurs chaos
Guardiola could have selected a more controlled starting XI had he desired, particularly if he picked Jack Grealish, or maybe Mateo Kovacic in midfield. But with Doku and Foden wide, with Bernardo Silva pushing up through the middle, this was a side set up to mirror Tottenham&aposs unapologetically-attacking tactics.
Even Josko Gvardiol was a more positive selection than Nathan Ake, with only the sight of Kyle Walker staying back to indicate some thought had been given to defending. It was bold, especially given Guardiola said his side had a &aposproblem&apos with defending goals on the break this week (referring to the six shipped in games against Leipzig and Chelsea).
With Doku getting at his defender at every opportunity and Foden working well with Bernardo, City were buzzing in attack to match Spurs and create an end-to-end encounter. For one game only, Guardiola sacrificed the control and defensive solidity that won them the treble last season and leaned into the chaos that has come to characterise recent City-Spurs contests. City have sometimes been criticised from outsiders for being too good at times, clinically so. This was a Guardiola selection that may not have been as clinical and didn&apost collect three points but certainly couldn&apost be accused of being boring in a relentless game from start to finish.
Grealish substitution offers solution to Doku dilemma
At half time, Tottenham replaced winger Bryan Gil with defensive midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, seemingly trying to shore up an erratic midfield battle they were losing. Five minutes later, and Guardiola made a similar change, replacing the exciting Doku with the more composed Grealish. Just as Spurs looked to slow the tempo down a little, City reacted in kind.
Grealish is still exciting in his own right, but makes things happen in a different way, and certainly keeps the ball more than his teammate. Guardiola put his arms round Doku as he went off, explaining his decision, and immediately, Grealish created a chance for Haaland and won a free kick to keep Spurs pegged back in their right side.
For all Guardiola&aposs attacking line up, his first instinct to change things was to revert to the approach that has served him so well – while still keeping up some of the threat Doku offered. And Grealish turned goalscorer with his first of the season, turning in Erling Haaland&aposs cutback 10 minutes before time. Could the way forward for dealing with Doku and Grealish be for one to start, and the other to replace him to see the game out and keep the defender guessing?
Haaland&aposs &aposoff day&apos
The City programme showed Erling Haaland showered in a snow-storm made up of 50 white balls in the place of snowflakes, to represent his 50 Premier League goals in 16 months. This was not a game where he would increase his tally, however, missing two presentable chances in the first half that he would be expected to score with ease. It&aposs not that he played badly, just that he didn&apost reach his stupidly-high standards against a decent defence. It happens.
What Haaland did do, though, was get more involved in the midfield, coming deep to link attack and defence in an open game, and his quick-thinking freed Doku for City&aposs second, who found Alvarez to assist for Foden. He knew exactly where Grealish would want the ball when he turned provider for City&aposs third – principally because he has converted so many of those cutbacks in sky blue so far.
If this was an &aposoff day&apos for Haaland, it was also one of his better all-round performances in some time, adding another assist to his collection. This was his fifth assist in 21 appearances this term, compared to nine in 53 last season. It is an aspect of his game that goes under the radar, but Haaland is getting more and more involved in City&aposs build-up, and they are becoming more dangerous for it. If only he had converted one of those first half chances.
Two costly yellow cards
Rodri couldn&apost stop as he brought down Pedro Porro. He collected a standard yellow card but that means he will miss the midweek trip to Aston Villa as it was his fifth of the season. Grealish will also miss his return to Villa Park after getting booked himself.