Tottenham 0-1 Manchester City: A poor advert for the Premier League played on Wembley’s worn pitch

Every tense, dramatic, high-quality game between two of the Premier League’s top sides is sold to us as being a great advert for the competition, and the reason why the product is so popular around the world. Games between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in recent years have frequently been exactly that.

But this was the opposite: a game that under-delivered on skill, excitement and everything that was expected from it. It was in no way an advert for the Premier League. Not least because it took place on a pitch bearing the unmissable branding of a different competition in a different sport. 

Those two facts – the poverty of the game, the unreadiness of the ground – are obviously linked. Because this game should never have taken place here. Not today, on a pitch that had been used for an NFL game the day before. In a ground that Spurs were meant to have moved out of months ago. The players knew it and the fans knew it.

Their negative energy fed off one another, producing one of the ugliest, scrappiest, clumsiest games you could imagine between two top teams each dedicated to playing the game the right way. The muted crowd of 56,854 never sounded impressed or engaged.

The only goal of the game came from a mistake, when Kieran Trippier misjudged Ederson’s long kick out from the back, weakly headed the ball back, allowing Raheem Sterling to steal in and set up Riyahd Mahrez to sweep home. Beyond that there was precious little quality, very little passing, the players primarily being frustrated not by their opposition but by the pitch itself.

David Silva can usually master any surface but even he could not squeeze the ball out from under his feet when Bernardo Silva played him in early in the second half. And when Erik Lamela was through for Spurs’ best chance of the game, the ball bobbled up and he hit it over the bar.

It did not even have to be this way. Because Wembley has been the home to some impressive high-octane displays for Tottenham, where the crowd has got behind them and roared the team on to playing with that same energy they showed at the end of White Hart Lane. Manchester United, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Arsenal all came here last season and were blown away by Tottenham playing their proud assertive football.

That was Spurs fans upholding their part of the bargain, getting behind the team for a season of ‘home’ games in an unfamiliar corner of the city. And the Spurs players rewarding their trust with the performances they were used to seeing at White Hart Lane.

But this year that compact has broken down. Spurs have actually looked less settled at Wembley this year than they did last season. Back then playing here felt like a contained, limited commitment. A period of hardship with a clear end in sight. But this season these games have not had the same feel. Largely because they were never meant to take place here.

Remember that Tottenham were meant to move into their new ‘Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’ back on 15 September for the hosting of Liverpool. When that game was played here instead it felt like a chore, or an imposition, as if something that had been promised for years had been snatched away. The other games here, against Watford, Cardiff and even Barcelona, have struggled to replicate the same enthusiastic atmosphere that Wembley felt last season.

The time when Spurs could turn playing at Wembley into a positive has gone. They tried their best but there is no real atmosphere for them here anymore. It will be no different for PSV Eindhoven, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Southampton, Burnley, Bournemouth or Wolves. Spurs need their new ground or this will keep on happening.

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