Tottenham battled back from a goal down to destroy Premier League leaders Manchester City 4-1 at White Hart Lane.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team remain a bewildering phenomenon. This is a side that, when in form, looks world-beating: the talk five games into this campaign that it might pass unbeaten through the season was ambitious and premature, but not wholly implausible.
And yet it suffers a fatal vulnerability, a capacity to switch off and lose games in which it seems to be in control. It has now lost three of its last four games in all competitions (and the one it won was against Sunderland), a damaging run that perhaps significantly, began when its captain Vincent Kompany suffered a calf strain and had to be substituted against Juventus.
The score at that point was 1-1, but Juve then nicked a winner, since when there was the to West Ham, when it couldn’t convert possession into goals, and then this defeat, one that seemed implausible after half-hour when it led 1-0 and seemed in control. One desperately poor offside call was all it took for its confidence to melt away.
It’s true that Kyle Walker was clearly offside in the build-up to Eric Dier’s equaliser – a mystifying decision given he was only 10 yards from the linesman and apparently right in his eye-line – but to acknowledge the significance of that error is not to diminish how good Spurs were in the middle period of the game. The young English pairing of Dier and Dele Alli at the back of midfield was superb, while Erik Lamela is beginning to look like the player Spurs thought they were getting when they paid £30million for him in 2013.
What if baffling is how City’s control fell away. The first half hour had been predictably tight, with Spurs sitting their full-backs deep, but what chances there were fell City’s way. Yaya Toure dragged wide after De Bruyne had created space for him, and Lloris made a fine save from Sergio Aguero just before City took the lead after 24 minutes. The doubt about Toure over the past couple of season has been whether, at 32, he still has the capacity for those surging runs. Here he offered at least a partial answer, making a characteristically languid 50-yard run from the edge of his own box as City cleared a Spurs corner then slipping a pass inside Ben Davies, the Spurs left-back, for Kevin De Bruyne, who was marginally offside, to run on and slip home his third goal in his past three games.
The issue for Toure is then whether he can get back as well – although playing as the most advanced of the three central midfielders, ahead of Fernandinho and Fernando, he didn’t really need to in this line up. In games against high-class opposition – and Spurs perhaps live on the brink of that description – this perhaps is his future, operating not as a holding midfielder who gets forward put as an attacking midfielder who can get back. It was after he had limped off with what appeared to be a hamstring problem that City’s real capitulation came.
Raheem Sterling had the chance to double City’s lead after 26 minutes but once his low shot had been clawed away by Lloris, Spurs suddenly woke up. Harry Kane hit a shot just wide when he probably should have laid in Eriksen and then drew a fine save from Willy Caballero, in for Joe Hart who has hardly trained this week because of a minor back problem.
The equaliser did come, though, in the final minute of the half. The offside Kyle Walker crossed for Son Heung-min, whose close range effort was superbly saved by Caballero. As the ball was cleared, the Argentinian keeper was slow to reset himself and he barely reacted as Dier flashed a low 35-yard drive in off the inside of the post.
Caballero was more clearly at fault for Spurs’s second, on 50 minutes, misjudging the flight of a Lamela free-kick, allowing Alderweireld to hold off Fernando and nod in. Eleven minutes later it was 3-1, an Eriksen free-kick coming back off the angle of post and bar for Kane, who mishit his half-volley so the ball seemed to take an age to drift into the top corner, ending his eight-game club goal drought.
Lamela capped a fine individual display with the fourth, showing admirable composure to round Caballero and guide his shot past Martin Demichelis on the line after he had initially miscontrolled Clinton Njie’s cross. The Argentinian went off with four minutes remaining to a deserved ovation.
After a scratchy start to the season Spurs have found their rhythm. City was hampered by injury but given its resources that is hardly an excuse. The habit of allow its intensity to drop is worrying ingrained.