There was so much to take away from the Etihad during Manchester City’s compelling 2-2 draw with Tottenham.
Man City was back to its swashbuckling best, but unable to see out the game from 2-0 up. Gabriel Jesus made a late cameo appearance and looked just as good as the hype machine that had preceded him. City boss Pep Guardiola was left rubbing his face in astonishment at how Spurs, who under previous coaches would have capitulated to a heavy loss, somehow got anything out of the game (especially after Toby Alderweireld limped off, leaving them with two midfielders as center backs).
But the turning point came with City 2-1 up and Raheem Sterling clean through on goal. Behind him, England teammate Kyle Walker was struggling to keep up. As Sterling entered the penalty area, Walker put two hands on Sterling’s back and gave him a push–gentle enough for Sterling not to fall over, hard enough to put him off his shot, which was hit straight at the goalkeeper.
“I wasn't going to get the ball otherwise,” said Walker after the game. “You have to put him off as much as possible.”
Referee Andre Marriner ignored the penalty claims–and the red card that would have inevitably followed. One minute later, Spurs equalized to make it 2-2.
Sometimes players just cannot win: Sterling, one of England’s best talents, was unfairly made a scapegoat for England’s failure at Euro 2016. He was (unluckily) booked for diving against Barcelona earlier this season. Perhaps those two experiences informed his decision to stay on his feet. Had he gone down, you would have expected Marriner to penalize the foul. So what’s a player to do? How can we convince players not to dive, when officials don't give the right decisions if they don’t?
Guardiola did well to hold his tongue in the aftermath of the game–one can only imagine Jose Mourinho’s reaction to a similar incident. And if you could possibly put the scoreline and controversy to one side, this was one of City’s best performances under its new coach. If there's a silver lining, it's that City is still ahead of rival Manchester United, despite the swirl of negativity around the club.