IT IS a game of errors, the current Belgium and former Wigan and Everton manager, Roberto Martinez, always says. Maybe he learned that at Motherwell.

In the space of four days of extraordinary sporting drama, Francesco Molinari and David De Gea would surely have agreed, as would De Gea’s manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.


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There was little expectation, though, that one night after Manchester United’s loss in Barcelona back in his home town, Pep Guardiola would be joining this company of frustration.

But there was Guardiola in the minutes after Manchester City’s elimination by Tottenham from the Champions League trying to be magnanimous and make sense of an incoherent match packed with action and goals and which featured two huge VAR decisions.

Both of them hurt City. The second caught Sergio Aguero a few inches offside; the first allowed Fernando Llorente’s goal to stand.

In Llorente’s case the ball brushed his arm before hitting his hip and dropping beyond the stranded Ederson. It did not look like a handball in the sense of a player using a hand to foil an attack or to punch the ball into the net. It was accidental.


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In Guardiola’s mind, however, the referee’s interpretation was an error. The goal was allowed. Spurs are through. City’s quadruple is done.

Inevitability some have reduced the match to one moment, when it was a rush of them. It was a game of high intensity, great skill and quite a few errors. Where it leaves City, in particular, is intriguing.

“Today is tough and tomorrow will be tough too,” Guardiola said. “But the day after we will be ready to fight for the Premier League.”

The day after the day after tomorrow has arrived. And City’s opponents at home are, once again, Tottenham Hotspur. If Wednesday felt “cruel”, as Guardiola said, so will the mere sight of Spurs today.

City clearly wish to retain their Premier League title, that much was made obvious when they were unbeaten in the division until December. But, as with Paris Saint Germain, and Chelsea in the past, the great breakthrough onto a higher plane was triumph in the Champions League. City have not been able to get there.


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It is now Tottenham’s target, it frames their season; but it is how City react today that will attract attention.

Should Spurs flop, they will be forgiven, even if it does place their top-four spot in jeopardy. Tottenham have touched a height this week. They have injuries and a net spend that baffles some boardrooms.

But if it is City who are off colour, seem an inch short of their usual metronomic zip, there will be few offering space for explanations.

This is what overwhelming economic power does – it removes room for sympathy when things go wrong.

As the matches keep coming, Guardiola must feel like it never stops. Yet in the one competition in which the club wanted to continue to cover new ground, City have come to a halt and this "failure" in Europe has a side effect of ramping up pressure domestically. Should City draw, for example, Liverpool will hold a one-point advantage before their trip to Cardiff tomorrow.

Even if they ease past Spurs, the focus will remain: City’s next match is the Manchester derby next Wednesday. There is potential for a bad night to turn into a bad week.

Players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Aguero are unlikely to let that happen but until that late offside VAR decision, City would have been full of the certainty of purpose which characterises them so often. Last Sunday’s game at Crystal Palace could have been troublesome. City made it look simple.


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Now there are questions, some internal. After the first leg loss at Tottenham, Ilkay Gundogan spoke to German television and said: “We were not brave enough . . . we made a lot of basic errors.

“I have the feeling that our nerves are on edge in important Champions League games.”

Gundogan then added: “Sometimes less is more.”

Such a remark feeds the idea of Guardiola over-thinking. The manager, in turn, is entitled to point out that Aguero missed a penalty in the first leg.

While City ponder on themselves, Tottenham think of Ajax. Before then they have Brighton on Tuesday and West Ham next Saturday, both at home. These are winnable fixtures.

It will be understandable, therefore, if Pochettino’s approach is to park a bus across City’s midfield.

City should be good enough to move it: they are 16 points ahead of Tottenham with a superior goal difference of 34. Spurs, moreover, have already lost 10 times in the Premier League this season.

But even if it becomes 11, Spurs still have Europe and Man City do not.