Premier League English

Pep Guardiola on moment when he thought Man City had lost Premier League title

Manchester City invariably came through a teeth-clenching, nerve-biting encounter failing to produce anything near their usual top level machine-like best to beat Tottenham 2-0 to put themselves on the verge of the Premier League title – thanks in no small part to substitute goalkeeper Stefan Ortega.

However, as far as serial-award-winning Pep Guardiola was concerned, there were two key players on the pitch, when it mattered most, that could have ultimately determined the final outcome had one not shown the stoic resolve and fearless obstinacy that refused to acquiesce in the face of even the most daunting oppressor. For a moment on the pitch, time stood still for the City boss as fear actually stared him in the face, taunting him that it was all over for Manchester City’s title chances right in the moment that one of the two individuals – the Premier League’s most polished finisher – was bearing down relentlessly on goal, hell-bent on unleashing a thunderbolt beyond the touch of the goalkeeper.

A split-second later, substitute keeper Stefan Ortega – the only other perpetrator who mattered most then on the pitch and who also happened to be the only person who was in between the rapidly-advancing Spurs captain and the goalmouth – lunged into immediate action to intercept as best he could, relying solely on pure intuitive reflexes and finely-honed muscle memory conditioninng as he braced himself for the impact as Son unleashed his kick. The away section of the new Tottenham Stadium exploded with a deafening roar as United’s faithful spontaneously roared their approval for Ortega’s heart-stopping, successful defense of his goalmouth.

Guardiola could easily have been forgiven for thinking that it was déjà vu all over again as their main tormentor of the past Son Heung-Min raced through all defenses like a man possessed – after a Manu Akanji bungled attempt at goal – maniacally in pursuit of that solitary equaliser that would have left City trailing Arsenal going into the final day.

After all, City had never won at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the Premier League, only finally managing to break their goalless, winless run of five straight defeats in the FA Cup in January.

“You know how many times Son punishes us the last seven, eight years? How many goals they score with Harry Kane? Oh my god!” Guardiola said.

“We define here how is the team,” he continued. “Ortega saves the actions, otherwise Arsenal are champions, that is the reality. Margins are so tight.

“Stefan makes an incredible save. He has this talent, one vs one he is one of the best keepers I’ve seen in my entire life. He has the German culture, stand up, don’t go down. Since I arrive, in the FA Cup and Carabao Cups. Ederson has had four injuries [this season]. He is so reliable, an incredible keeper. Our keeper trainer made an incredible decision to sign him.”

Visibly soothed by the relief, Guardiola was even able to joke about his comic reaction to the Son episode – where he fell onto his back in frustration – being due to a bad back and that position was more comfortable. It was obvious he was speaking from a position of comfort with the title race back in City’s hands going into the final day as he likened Sunday’s showdown with West Ham to the 2022 finale against Aston Villa.

“Now we have to be focussed, Wednesday recovery, two days training. I’m sure now it will be similar to Aston Villa in terms of emotions and difficulty. We have to stay in the game and our momentum we will have, our people and momentum. and try to do it.

“I liked [what I saw] because they were so happy in locker room but at the same time they know it’s not done. I didn’t see an extra celebration. They know it will be tough.

“When you have all the people to come here to the Etihad at 3om on Sunday. Bring incredible energy, go in there and win every inch and every meter to deserve to win the game. All you have to do is win the game, do something any other team has done. Being in that chance, we are fortunate.”