For the best part of an hour here at the Etihad, it looked like being a good night for Tottenham and an even better one for Arsenal.
Spurs led 2-0 against the run of play and Manchester City’s hopes of catching the Gunners at the top of the Premier League appeared more forlorn than ever.
Five days after losing the Manchester derby, Pep Guardiola was staring at three defeats in a row for only the third time in his career.
Riyad Mahrez notched a brace as he inspired Manchester City to a comeback over Tottenham
Julian Alvarez struck the first goal as Manchester City began their comeback at the Etihad
Erling Haaland (pictured) found the back of the net with a header early in the second-half
Tottenham, on the other hand, had bounced back from their comprehensive defeat to Arsenal in the North London derby and were suddenly on course for an unlikely win thanks to goals from Dejan Kulusevski and Emerson Royal.
Heaven knows what Guardiola said – or did – during the half-time interval with the opprobrium of the City fans still ringing in his ears, but City came out for the second half like a team possessed.
Julian Alavrez pulled one back and Erling Haaland ended a run of three games without a goal by heading City level. Riyad Mahrez then completed a stunning turnaround by scoring a third goal in the space of 13 minutes.
Tottenham took a 2-0 lead into the half-time break with Dejan Kulusevski scoring the opener
Emerson Royal (pictured) doubled Spurs lead over City just a few minutes later with a header
You could almost picture Arsenal’s celebrations falling flat. Their lead at the top is back to five points. They may have a game in hand, but it’s quite clear that City won’t give up their title without a hell of a fight.
Both managers reacted to their derby defeats at the weekend by making changes; four for Conte and five for Guardiola who started Haaland and Julian Alvarez together for only the second time in the league.
‘We need more presence in final third, close to Erling,’ said the City boss who bristled at questions before kick-off about Haaland’s role.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Ederson 5; Lewis 7 (Walker 83), Stones 6.5, Akanji 6, Ake 6.5; Rodri 6, Gundogan 7 (Silva 81); Mahrez 8, Alvarez 7, Grealish 6.5; Haaland 6.5.
Subs: Ortega, Dias, Phillips, Cancelo, Laporte, De Bruyne, Foden.
Scorers: Alvarez 51, Haaland 53, Mahrez 63, 90
Manager: Pep Guardiola 7
Tottenham (5-4-1): Lloris 5; Royale 6.5 (Richarlison 78, 6), Romero 6.5, Dier 6, Davies 5.5 (Lenglet 78, 6), Perisic 5 (Sessegnon 69, 6); Kulusevski 7, Hojbjerg 6.5, Bentancur 6 (Bissouma 75, 6), Heung-min 6; Kane 6.5.
Subs: Forster, Doherty, Sanchez, Tanganga, Sarr.
Scorers: Kulusevski 44, Royal 45+2
Booked: Romero, Hojbjerg
Manager: Antonio Conte 6.5
Referee: Simon Hooper 7
‘Why? Because United followed man to man, in the pockets, denying space? Against Tottenham that won’t happen.’
Only because they were too busy kicking Alvarez. Twice in the opening 12 minutes, Ben Davies upended the World Cup winner, but Riyad Mahrez wasted the opportunity to test Hugo Lloris’ fragile form when he fired a free kick on the edge of the area smack into the Tottenham wall.
When Jack Grealish cut the ball back for Alvarez to try his luck through a crowded goalmouth, Eric Dier threw himself in the way of the shot to block.
In fact, it was Mahrez who was first into referee Simon Hooper’s book for a foul on Dejan Kulusevski, swiftly followed by Cristian Romero and Pierre-Emile Hobjerg who left a foot in on Rico Lewis as retribution for an earlier clash between the pair.
There was no shortage of aggression. Jack Grealish raced back to thwart Son Heung-min and was then stopped in his tracks by an even better challenge from Romero.
What we were lacking was goalmouth incident, but that changed dramatically in the final 16 minutes of the first half.
Lewis’ 25-yard effort took a nick off Son and forced Lloris into a smart save before Haaland wasted two chances in as many minutes in front of goal.
Up to that point, Tottenham’s only threat had been Son’s header from a Ben Davies cross, but they stunned the champions with two goals at the end of the half.
Ederson didn’t cover himself in glory on either occasion, it has to be said.
When the ball was played back to the City keeper in the 44th minute, for some reason he decided to play it short to Rodri.
It was all the Spaniard could do to stick out a foot and poke the ball away from Rodrigo Bentancur, but it only went as far as Kulusevski who curled home a shot from 15 yards.
City’s defending was no better for the second goal in added time at the end of the half. John Stones gave the ball away to Kulusevski on the right and then Harry Kane slid in to win it from Rodri who made a half-hearted challenge.
Kane got up to test Ederson with a shot to the near post and the keeper should have done better than palm the ball into the air as Emerson Royal reacted faster than Grealish to head into an empty net.
The half-time whistle was greeted by boos around the Etihad but the mood changed within eight minutes of the restart as amazingly City hit back to level.
First, Spurs struggled to deal with Mahrez’s cross from the right and when Lloris charged out to challenge Grealish, the ball fell for Alvarez to hammer home.
Then with Conte’s side still reeling, Rodri dinked in a clever pass for Mahrez to nod across the six-yard box where Halland was waiting to head home and end his three-game goal drought.
Back game Spurs and Ivan Perisic looked certain to score but his goalbound effort caught the inside of Lewis’ leg and deflected against the post
But in the 63rd minute, Mahrez won a 50-50 with Perisic and skipped past Davies before rifling the ball past Lloris at his near post.
There were question marks over the Tottenham keeper again and substitute Clement Lenglet didn’t fare much better when he miscontrolled Ederson’s long ball late on, allowing Mahrez to clip home a second and put the result beyond doubt.
But City won’t care. The title race is well and truly on.