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


If Manchester City had beaten Tottenham in the same ruthless manner that they had beaten everybody else, it would have been just fine with them.

Had they gone through the entire season and won the Premier League title without a ‘moment’, it would not have bothered them one bit.

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

Had he scored, City would have had 13 (including 10 added-on) minutes to pick themselves off the floor and try to find a winner that would have kept the title in their hands going into Sunday. They might have managed it, they might have summoned up even more drama — but we’ll never know.

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

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

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Guardiola congratulating Ortega (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

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

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

Make no mistake, it was not just a City moment. It is a clip that will be played again and again forever more, woven into the very fabric of Premier League lore.

It might not have the same gravity as the Steven Gerrard slip, but in a title race that has, so far, been characterised by City winning and winning, and Arsenal recovering from their defeat to Aston Villa by winning their matches, it could be the defining moment.

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

“Ortega saves the actions, otherwise Arsenal are champions, that is the reality,” Guardiola said. “That is the reality.”

A save will never weigh as heavily as a goal in terms of football moments but for City that was their season there and then.

It is one moment that ensures that the hundreds of others throughout 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 have not lost a league game in over five months — some people have complained that it is boring, that there is no jeopardy in the title race.

That ignores the fact that after City drew with Arsenal at the end of March, both Arsenal and Liverpool were in the ascendency until both lost — at home — on the same day. They were huge twists. The problem, for some, was that those twists don’t happen to City.

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

And nothing changed on Tuesday in that respect.

A few minutes after the Ortega save, Jeremy Doku won City a penalty. As Haaland stood waiting to take it, the fourth official indicated there would be 10 minutes to be added on. Had Haaland missed from the spot then those 10 minutes might have been the most difficult of the season.

The Norwegian had put City 1-0 up, but whereas that normally gives them control, they seemed happy to take home what they had, leading to several uncertain passages of play where they kept gifting Spurs the ball.

Kyle Walker admitted afterwards that he had not slept on Monday night and it looked like City appreciated how important this game was — they were nervous for sure.

But Haaland scored the penalty. He normally goes low, and the last time he went high was against Bayern Munich last season. Then, he cleared the crossbar. This time he buried it, and the game was all but done.

Maybe the title is all but done, too. With all the noise around the Spurs game, with many of their fans wanting to lose the game, there was an incredible amount of focus on it and it became the biggest hurdle. Spurs, though, held up their end of the bargain and made life very uncomfortable for City.

Walker’s sleepless night — he said he was excited to start the game — shows how important it had become.

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

It feels like West Ham at home on Sunday pales into insignificance, but Guardiola is already warning about the difficulties of it. He has three good examples up his sleeve, two relating to his own team: two years ago they were 2-0 down against Aston Villa in a match they were widely expected to win. In 2012 they were 2-1 down to QPR going into stoppage time.

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

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

One more game between City and more immortality, but it is only because of that one moment, the biggest of the season so far.

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



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