Pre-preamble: Early arrivals were treated to Kevin McCarra's match preview. You can still read it, if you like:
Manchester City are attempting to get closer to the Premier League title but in another sense they have been going backwards. Of late they have looked like last season's side, with that same caution. It is no longer so unusual to see the team go goalless. The dependence on David Silva for creativity is a flaw and he can look burdened. This is a match in which City may need some of their former exuberance. Tottenham were deflated by the home draw with Wolves and must try to demonstrate their persistence and quality at the Etihad Stadium.
• City have taken 58 points from a possible 60 in their last 20 home league games and won the last 15 in a row
• Tottenham have gone more matches without failing to score (20) than any other side
• City scored more goals at White Hart Lane in August (five) than they managed in their previous six visits combined (three)
• Gareth Bale has assisted more goals in 2011-12 (seven) than in his previous four seasons combined (six)
• City have hit the bar or post more times (14) than any other team in the division
Preamble: At White Hart Lane back in August City won 5-1, Edin Dzeko scored 36% of his season's tally of league goals (four) and the stage was set for their Autumnal goal rampage. By the end of October, City had scored a six, two fives, three fours and a few threes. The first domestic team to stop City scoring at least twice was Liverpool on 27 November, their 16th domestic fixture of the season. But in 12 matches since then (including that one) they have scored either one goal or none on eight occasions. They still won six of them, and their home record remains remarkable (they've won the last 15 on the spin in the league) but it's certainly a deterioration.
So what does the future hold? Was the real Manchester City the free-scoring entertainers of yore, or the scratchy gruel-feeders of recent weeks? Personally I'm expecting the collective reapplication of foot to accelerator to take place at any moment, but then I was almost certain that moment would come at Wigan last Monday, when they were distinctly unimpressive (if victorious). But the immediate future appears promising: after today their next six league fixtures are against Everton (a), Fulham (h), Aston Villa (a), Blackburn (h), Bolton (h) and Swansea (a). Frankly, whatever happens this afternoon they should be comfortably clear of the chasing pack by the end of that lot, and at this moment I still expect them to win the league. Much more of the stuff they served up on Monday and my mind will swiftly be changed.
But what of Tottenham? Their first team is phenomenal, their squad has some holes. Good luck with injuries and gathering momentum has fuelled their title tilt, and victory here would add to their own sense of belief while puncturing their rivals'. But the immediate future appears testing: after today their next six league fixtures are against Wigan (h), Liverpool (a), Newcastle (h), Arsenal (a), Manchester United (h) and Everton (a), with a trip to Chelsea to come two games later. If they're still sniffing the leaders' arses at the end of that lot I don't see why anyone else should be expected to stop them.
Anyway, enough of that gubbins. Right now I just want an afternoon of frantic attacking and zany forehead-slap-inducing goal-accumulation. There'll be no Emmanuel Adebayor for Spurs, and no Vincent Kompany or the Touré twins for City. No Mario Balotelli in City's starting line-up, though with Agüero, Silva, Nasri and Dzeko on the pitch their attacking options aren't too shoddy. Ledley King is fit for Tottenham.
Manchester City: Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Milner, Silva, Agüero, Nasri, Dzeko. Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Johnson, Kolarov, Onuoha, De Jong, Balotelli.
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Parker, Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart, Defoe. Subs: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Bassong, Dawson, Kranjcar, Livermore, Pienaar.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).
Irrelevant really but still interesting stat: Spurs have lost just two of their last 11 matches at Manchester City, winning seven.
Incidentally, weren't there a remarkable number of absolute snorters scored in the Premier League yesterday? We'll leave Everton v Blackburn out of it, obviously.
If the Premier League had started on 29 August, the day after Spurs were royally thrashed by City, it would look like this.
The teams are out. Action imminent. I'm genuinely excited for this game, which should be very good indeed. I'm also looking forward to the feeling of crushing disappointment when Howard Webb blows the final whistle on a dismal error-strewn goalless draw in just under two hours' time.
1 min: Peeeeeep! They're off!
2 mins: A nervy beginning, the latest evidence being Scott Parker's calm sidefoot into touch for no apparent reason.
3 mins: It seems that the commentary box is being buzzed by a helicopter. Hard to make out what anyone's saying. I can tell you, though, that Silva has been described as "the little magician" for the first of about 51 times this afternoon.
5 mins: "I know City's AC Milan-apeing kit is a bit cheeky, but today's clash surely features the teams with the two best strips in the league – stylish sky blue versus lovely, minimalist pure white," suggests Ryan Dunne. "Surprised that Sky haven't billed it as the fashionista derby." Not for me, Ryan. White is a perfectly nice colour for a T-shirt in a Levi's ad, but when it comes to football kits I'd take Norwich's, say, any day.
7 min: Spurs playing some decent stuff, albeit not in particularly dangerous areas. City are working very hard at closing them down on the half-way line, but Tottenham are doing even better to keep the ball. It all ended with Walker being upended on the touchline, but the free-kick was wasted.
10 mins: Excellent terrier-like double-tackle by Scott Parker irritates City, without actually taking the ball off them, and leaves Nasri limping, briefly.
10 mins: Clichy has been booked for stopping Spurs from taking a quick throw-in.
11 mins: Another good move from Spurs, which ends with Bale finding Assou-Ekotto in plenty of space on the left wing. The cross was criminally poor, though, and easily cleared.
13 mins: This time Bale gives the ball away, and a few moments later Agüero sends Parker to the floor with a classy dummy, works a shooting opportunity and then sees his shot deflected wide off King.
13 mins: Nasri takes the corner, and hits it low and not particularly hard directly to the feet of the nearest defender. Puzzling.
14 mins: Bale takes the ball round Richards very well, and fizzes a low ball across the penalty area which Defoe, the only attacker in the penalty area, doesn't get very near.
18 mins: Very nicely controlled move by City, ending with Nasri's ball into the penalty area and Silva's pull-back. Agüero and Dzeko both make the same run to the near post, and the latter blocks the former's probably goalbound shot. "My housemate is a City fan," writes Kimberley Taylor. "When they lost to united the other week he came home, slammed doors and sulked. He's 38. Despite being a gooner I'd be grateful if Spurs could make that happen again, it was lovely." There are a million excellent reasons for wanting City to lose, but that's a particularly mean one.
20 mins: This actually is a terrific match so far. Lots of fine footballers playing fine football.
21 mins: Spurs do miss having a bit of height and physicality up front. Defoe's a good if frustrating player, but City look unworried by his mosquitoesque buzzing. "Shouldn't Ryan Dunn (5 mins) be out shopping instead of watching the football?" asls Andy Sheen. "One of the most exciting days of the season and he's talking about the 'strips'! What the hell?! Which team does he think has better haircuts?"
25 mins: Having been found by a quick free-klick Agüero runs into the penalty area, seems bound to draw a foul from Kaboul, doesn't, and gives the ball to Silva, who shoots just wide.
27 mins: Friedel speeds out of his area brilliantly to claim the ball from Dzeko's tiptoes. When I say "terrific" (20 mins), I mean that it has built up a thrilling sense of someone's-about-to-score, which can only last so long before it becomes a little less thrilling.
29 mins: "I'm wondering if Chris Coleman might be ready to take up the mantle of 'New David Pleat'?" ponders Matthew Ayre. "So far, we've been treated to the Pleat-isms 'David de Silva' and (ex-Spurs Manager) 'Sergio Ramos'. It's an impressive gambit." At one point I was sure I heard him mention Tottenham's Rodney King, but I decided I must have made it up. He couldn't have, surely?.
30 mins: Richards steals the ball, passes inside to Agüero and Friedel saves his low shot. The majority of City's best chances have come within moments of Spurs giving the ball away stupidly, and that was another one.
33 mins: Micah Richards' headed clearance falls to Van der Vaart, whose shot is deflected back to him, whose shot is deflected out of danger. He screams with frustration. "Apologies to Andy (21 min) but I started thinking through the haircut ratings by position," writes Holly Masturzo, "finding it a bit of a trade-off until I got to Hart v Friedel. Hair advantage: City."
36 mins: Howard Webb gives Lescott a final warning after he impeded Gareth Bale's run towards the penalty area. Kaboul thumps the free-kick emphatically over the bar. "Instead of watching the big game I'm stuck in a now six-hour dinner in Shanghai with my wife's family celebrating Chinese New Year," writes Oliver Pearce. "16 people and 25 odd dishes at one table, I'm hoping the spirits that be are kind on my beloved Spurs."
39 mins: Assou-Ekotto does very well to dispossess Richards, and from there Tottenham work the ball around their half so well the travelling support start to "olé" their every touch. Inevitably, as they do so, Kaboul overhits a pass to Walker straight into touch, a mistake greeted deliriously by the home fans.
42 mins: "When you mentioned that Spurs 'stupidly' gave the ball away in the 30th minute, you decided not to point out it was Scott Parker who gifted possession to Micah Richards," notes Nate Elliott. "Part of the press' agreement to never criticize the most overrated player in English football, no doubt? He's allowed to be named when making 'terrier-like double-tackles' (10 min), but not when presenting the opposition with excellent shooting opportunities on the edge of his own area." A bit harsh, I think. He's never been my player of the season, but Parker does do a terrific job, if not a flawless one. Spurs have needed a player of his ilk since Steffen Freund left the club.
45 mins: Peeeep! Five seconds of stoppage time are played before Howard Webb puts whistle to mouth.
Half-time: I thought the first quarter was quite compelling, both sides quick in getting into their stride, leading to a fast-paced, high-quality match that promised much. But nobody has delivered on this promise; Spurs have been less careful in possession than they were in that opening spell and have suffered for it, City have been given several opportunities to attack the heart of Spurs' defence but have succeeded in penetrating it only a couple of times and the one occasion when they looked genuinely likely to score they did Tottenham's defending for them. I think Friedel's from Agüero, a decent but not jaw-dropping stop, is the game's only save so far. The only way is up.
Still half-time but not for long: The Spurs players are back out. And here are City's!
46 mins: Peeeeeep! They're off! Again!
47 mins: No personnel changes at half-time. The question really is how long Spurs will wait before changing things around in attack – I can't remember Defoe touching the ball more than a couple of times in the first half.
48 mins: The best set-piece delivery yet sees Nasri's corner punched clear of danger by Friedel. City have started on the front foot.
50 mins: Defoe touches the ball as Spurs counter-attack. He keeps the ball well, the ball is worked to Van der Vaart and the Dutchman shoots wildly over the bar from 45 yards.
52 mins: Finally Gareth Bale seems set to race into the penalty area, only for James Milner pops up with an excellent covering challenge to deny him.
53 mins: Scott Parker is booked for tripping Agüero on Tottenham's right touchline, to great delight among the home fans.
54 mins: Possibly Tottenham's best move ends with Modric pulling the ball back to Bale, 15 yards from goal. A good chance, but the Welshman slips at the vital moment and nothing comes of it.
GOAL! Manchester City 1 Tottenham 0 (Nasri, 56)
56 mins: Just a brilliant pass from the little magician, Silva, to find Nasri running towards the middle from the left wing (Walker at fault there, having stopped running to wave his arm in the air), and with his first touch the Frenchman shoots emphatically past Friedel.
58 mins: Silva has been at the half-time spinach. Now he zigzags into the left side of the penalty area, before slamming a low centre that is cleared well by Kaboul for a corner.
GOAL! Manchester City 2 Tottenham 0 (Lescott, 59)
59 mins: Another good corner from Nasri, flicked on by Dzeko at the near post and then bundled in at the far by Lescott, who didn't know much about it and ended up further over the goalline himself than the ball ever was. Parker haters will have spotted that he was the man beaten to the ball there.
GOAL! Manchester City 2 Tottenham 1 (Defoe, 60)
60 mins: Savic has had a decent game today, but it's impossible to know what he was thinking in flicking on Kaboul's hopeful foreward punt. Defoe races onto the ball, strolls past the advancing Hart and rolls the ball into the empty net. Calamitous.
62 mins: CHANCE! Dzeko is played in and finds himself with a clear shot, 15 yards from goal. He blazes over the bar, left-footed. Should have done better.
64 mins: Spurs are lucky to have been handed that lifeline. City have had the more convincing attacking options all game, and now seem intent to prove it. And they're about to bring on Balotelli.
GOAL! Manchester City 2 Tottenham 2 (Bale, 65)
65 mins: Lennon carries the ball down the left, cuts inside and passes the ball to Bale, lurking 22 yards from goal. His first-time shot curls past Hart and into the far corner. Excellent stuff. Now we're talking. Ignore my previous comment, obviously.
66 mins: Balotelli has come on for Dzeko. Really, an astonishing few minutes. Dzeko should really have ended the game, but a few minutes later his game has been ended, and Tottenham are right back in it. Funny old game etc etc.
68 mins: Van der Vaart is coming off, Livermore replacing him. A sign that Spurs are happy to hold on to what they've got?
70 mins: An excellent pass from Milner to Richards, bursting into the area, but Parker pops up to head the ball behind for a corner, just as a dangerous shot seems certain.
72 mins: Bale's success seems to have encouraged his team-mates to take wild pot-shots from distance. Modric and Walker both guilty of off-target efforts in the last couple of minutes. City's momentum, though, has gone.
74 mins: Bale crosses from the left, with only Lennon to aim for, but Clichy at the far post is forced into a diving clearing header that flies safely over the bar, but was uncomfortable all the same.
75 mins: From the corner, the ball is eventually returned to Lennon on the right, who jinks towards goal before under-hitting a left-foot shot at the goalkeeper.
75 mins: And while all that was going on, Lescott found time to clatter Kaboul with a forearm smash. Didn't seem deliberate, and the referee agrees.
77 mins: Taking Van der Vaart off isn't defensive," writes George Solomon. "Always thought he is something of a liability in these games, especially late on. Livermore can sit in with Parker, one of them can pick up Silva, free Modric up a bit and with Lennon and Bale wide they can hit City hard and fast on the break. Spurs will win this." You heard it here first. It certainly doesn't seem to have stopped Tottenham attacking. Quite the opposite.
78 mins: Defoe is freed down the right, cuts inside Lescott, but then misses a kick with both the goal and the onrushing Gareth Bale apparently open, and Lescott comes back to steal the ball.
79 mins: Balotelli is booked for fouling Assou-Ekotto.
83 mins: It's become a little bit ragged in these last few minutes, with a succession of free-kicks given in unthreatening positions. Now Balotelli appears to have very violently stamped on Scott Parker. It looks like it could have been accidental, but there was a suspicious amount of violence in it.
86 mins: Apparently City have now equalled the number of goals they scored in the whole of last season. Nice stat.
87 mins: Defoe has collapsed, with very little provocation, after competing with Lescott for a long ball. A touch of cramp, it appears. Spurs bring Pienaar on for Lennon.
89 mins: Of course, as JR in Illinois suggests, a less charitable but certainly justifiable reading of two recent incidents would have had Lescott sent off for his forearm smash on Kaboul, and Balotelli sent off for stamping on Parker. That would certainly have shaken up the title chase. But as it turns out they haven't got a yellow card between them.
90 mins: We'll have four minutes of stoppage time here.
90+1 mins: INCREDIBLE MISS! Savic gives the ball away on the half-way line and Bale hares away, with Defoe to his right and only Lescott to deal with them. He sprints into the penalty area, and a simple square ball would have set up a simple tap-in. But the ball is poor, too far in front of Defoe, who flings his foot at it and diverts it a fraction wide of the far post. Spurs should have won the game there.
90+4 mins: PENALTY! Balotelli wins a penalty!
90+4 mins: Definitely a penalty, Ledley King getting his tackle all wrong, but of course Balotelli probably shouldn't have been on the pitch.
GOAL! Manchester City 3 Tottenham 2 (Balotelli, 90+5)
90+5 mins: An excellent and very calm penalty, Balotelli sending Friedel a sidestep to his left with a little shimmy before sending the ball arrowing to the keeper's right.
90+6 mins: Peeeeeeep! It's all over!
90+6 mins: Tottenham's players sink to their knees at the final whistle. That's a horrible result for them, in the end. Having come from 2-0 down and missed a brilliant chance to score a winner of their own seconds earlier, that's a horribly painful ending. I have never seen a headline-grabber like Balotelli. He puts Cantona in the shade, this lad.
Final thoughts: A good if often frustrating game, which crammed the majority of its thrilling moments into two brief spells in the second half. City were the better team for the majority, and on that basis presumably deserve to win, and they would have been the more credible title-winners even had they lost. But Tottenham get credit not just for their slightly fortunate comeback: not for the first time this season they massively improved following a second-half re-organisation (Stoke away was probably the best example), and after Livermore came on they enjoyed their only sustained period of domination.
We'll see that Balotelli "stamp" many times again, I'd have thought. Like I said at the time, it seemed suspiciously violent and I think he was very lucky not to have been punished, but also that the replays were probably not so conclusive that he'll get a massive FA ban. He is, in short, astonishingly fortunate. Sky interview him after the game but fail to mention the incident, which seems bizarrely cowardly.
Balotelli lucky boy update: Absolute consensus in the Sky studio that Balotelli should have been sent off. "If he deems this not a sending-off," says Graeme Souness of Howard Webb, "he shouldn't be refereeing football matches let alone World Cup finals." If Webb saw it and didn't send him off, he's a useless referee. If he didn't see it, Balotelli should get a massive FA ban. We'll see.