It was the game that had everything. Manchester City, one trophy down in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple, thought they had done enough to advance to the Champions League semi-finals but Tottenham Hotspur spoiled the party.
Mauricio Pochettino, linked with a move to City’s rivals Manchester United earlier this campaign, couldn’t quite believe it at the final whistle, joining the squad for jubilant on-field celebrations.
Often the bridesmaid but never the bride, it was refreshing from a neutral’s perspective to see Spurs get the job done on the big stage.
Their away record against the Premier League’s “Big 6” is poor at best but Tottenham showed resilience to repel City’s relentless waves of attack. It was one-way traffic for most of the second half but Spurs did what they needed to do.
The game itself will go down as one of the greatest Champions League fixtures of all-time. With four goals in the opening 11 minutes and five goals in the opening 21, it was a unique encounter from start to finish.
Packed full of drama, with twists and turns in every direction, it was a remarkable contest for the ages. City were on the wrong side of the result but the match will live long in the memory for both sets of fans.
City were in complete control when Fernando Llorente turned the ball into the City net with 73 minutes on the clock. There was an element of luck and Tottenham hearts were in their mouths when the referee initiated a VAR check.
Fortunately for Spurs, they had nothing to worry about but it was a nervy few minutes for fans in attendance. VAR got the call right but something must be done to keep supporters in the know.
But the drama wasn’t over yet. City were given a boost when the fourth official revealed that there would be at least five minutes of added time and the Etihad Stadium erupted as Raheem Sterling kept his composure to fire past Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal.
Spurs players hit the ground in disbelief as their opposite numbers celebrated – but there was one more twist to come in this epic contest.
Match referee Cuneyt Cakir signalled that there was a VAR check in progress but it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. Sergio Aguero was clearly offside.
Cakir controversially sent off Manchester United winger Luis Nani in a Champions League tie with Real Madrid in 2013 and he didn’t do himself any favours with the blue half of Manchester last night. But the technology speaks for itself: VAR made those decisions, not the referee.
Guardiola has been an advocate for video technology in the past and, while he questioned Llorente’s goal, he was gracious in defeat and accepted the Aguero offside.
The mantra of VAR is that there has to be a “clear and obvious error” to overturn a decision – and this one was not straightforward by any means. The referee could’ve looked at the Llorente goal all evening whilst the Aguero offside was simple. That is the difference.
City’s hopes of winning the quadruple have been scuppered but a domestic treble is still on the cards.
Picking themselves up for Saturday’s contest is crucial; the latest sport betting odds have Pep’s men at 7/25 to claim three points and it would take a brave man to back against the Blues.
City will be determined to make amends for last night’s loss and things could get ugly for Tottenham if the hosts are at their brilliant best. Spurs must now decide whether to focus primarily on the Premier League top four race or winning the Champions League.
Given the choice, Tottenham would almost certainly choose to face Ajax over Barcelona or Liverpool but the Eredivisie side are no slouches and plenty of punters will be split ahead of this contest.
With Harry Kane potentially out for the rest of the season, Spurs are a risky pick at 22/25 to reach the Champions League final.
Given that Ajax have already defeated Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the semi-finals, neutrals may be looking at the Dutch side as potential victors in this tie.
The first game is in north London and Tottenham will be hoping for a repeat of the 1-0 victory over Manchester City. The 16/5 for Spurs to ‘win to nil’ is a decent bet though Ajax have failed to score in just four of their 26 away games in all competitions this season.
Lady Luck was smiling down on Tottenham on Wednesday night and fans will be hoping that Pochettino’s men can avoid reverting back to bottling it in the semi-finals.
Reaching the final four of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time less than one month after moving into their new stadium is nothing more than coincidence but it would be the stuff of dreams if Tottenham could secure a shock Champions League triumph.
VAR has had its critics throughout 2018/19 but this was a big victory for using technology in football. Without it, City would be unjustly celebrating their spot in the semi-finals whilst Tottenham would be suffering more heartbreak.
Neutrals will have everything crossed for an equally entertaining contest when the two teams go up against each other in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*