A DECENT day, then, for Pep Guardiola.
First, his great rival Jurgen Klopp announced that he was heading for the hills.
Football’s weirdest stat – that Guardiola’s side had never scored a goal here in five previous visits, which all ended in defeat – is finally over thanks to Nathan Ake’s controversial 88th-minute winner.
Tottenham were furious, claiming a foul by Ruben Dias on keeper Guglielmo Vicario, before Ake stabbed home.
But ref Paul Tierney and his VAR probably got it right by allowing the goal – continuing the recent trend against the over-protection of keepers.
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The entertainment value of a match between two of the Premier League’s five teams was risible until City staged a late rally and peppered the Spurs goal for the final 20 minutes.
The last time these sides – usually two of the most thrilling in English football – met it was a 3-3 thriller at the Etihad.
But with Erling Haaland and Son Heung-Min missing, with Kevin De Bruyne and James Maddison on the bench until the final quarter this was largely a night to forget.
Despite the outpouring of grief on social media earlier in the day, we managed to start without a minute’s silence for Klopp’s impending departure.
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After suffering seven and a half hours without a goal here, City thought they had cracked it within four minutes.
Kyle Walker was released down the right and fed Phil Foden, whose shot was half-saved by Vicario before Oscar Bobb stabbed the loose ball over the line.
But the linesman raised his flag and after one of those mind-numbing VAR delays – which always seem longer here than anywhere else – the nail on Bobb’s big toe was adjudged to be ahead of Cristian Romero’s knee.
Soon there was an even longer delay when a linesman’s microphone malfunctioned and 62,000 people sat around in the cold waiting for a woman to stick wires down his vest.
Ah, the magic of the Cup was alive here, all right.
The biggest roar for the first half-hour was for a Van de ven tackle on Foden – an indication of City’s early dominance and of the big Dutchman’s wild popularity here.
City were having one of those nights where they pinged it around pleasantly, playing lift-music football, without showing any manic intent to score.
Spurs were going long, more often than usual. City’s sweeper-keeper Stefan Ortega kept dashing out of his area and heading it, in lieu of anything interesting happening.
City had three shots in a row blocked – Romero, Rodrigo Bentancur and Pedro Porro all in bodyguard mode, taking bullets for Big Ange.
It was the first time Spurs had failed to register a shot in the first half of a home match since February, although they did defeat City 2-0 that day in one of those minimalist Joe Mourinho masterclasses.
It felt as if we were waiting around for De Bruyne and Maddison to be sent on.
Failing that, Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles were lurking in the tunnel for a half-time chat. Either would have livened things up had they brought their boots.
Ossie did a crowd-pleasing rendition of the ‘boys from Tottingham’ but then the football started again.
Alvarez squandered a glorious chance when Van de Ven allowed a Bobb cross to reach the Argentine, who shot wide at the back stick.
Timo Werner’s afterburners sent him sprinting clear to angle a pass for Brennan Johnson but Ortega was off his line to smother.
On 65 minutes, Pep relented and sent on De Bruyne along with his dribbler-in-chief Jeremy Doku, who promptly fell over spectacularly.
A Foden cross deflected off Van de Ven and almost looped in and there was a feeling that City were starting to get serious.
Then came Maddison, for the first time in almost three months after an ankle ligament injury.
De Bruyne’s first serious involvement came when he barged big Van de Ven to the floor. The Belgian may be a subtle artiste of a ball-player but he is also a big unit.
Guardiola was yellow-carded for sarcastically clapping at the referee – even though everyone else in the ground was tempted to sarcastically clap both sets of players.
Doku cut back, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg took an air-kick and Bernardo Silva forced a decent save from Vicario.
Within a minute Hojbjerg was at it again, ceding possession to Foden who fed De Bruyne for the chance of the match, yet the Belgian inexplicably fired wide and it really did begin to feel as though City were the victim of some weird curse here.
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Next, Doku burst forward and Vicario stuck out a hand to save.
Finally, three minutes from time, the breakthrough arrived when De Bruyne’s corner found Ruben Dias and Vicario having argy-bargy near the goal-line, Dias stood his ground, got his head to the ball and Ake stabbed home.
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