Yesterday afternoon we saw the Premier League Champions Manchester City run out victors in an enthralling game against perennial rivals Tottenham Hotspur, these games very rarely disappoint and this most recent encounter was no different.
Previous clashes included the winner takes all match for the final Champions League qualification spot in 2010 which Spurs took, a 5-1 demolition at White Hart Lane and a Mario Balotelli fuelled controversial 3-2 win for City last January.
Yesterday's 1.30pm kick-off was whilst not as rip-roaringly entertaining last season's 3-2. was still an extremely fascinating tactical battle between Roberto Mancini and Andre Villas-Boas.
Spurs set up as they so often do away from home under their Portuguese coach to counter attack efficiently and with great pace and Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Clint Dempsey were included in the starting line-up. Emmanuel Adebayor was preferred to Jermain Defoe despite his midweek hat trick in the Europa League, with his physicality taken into account with Spurs coming up against Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure.
However it was not to be these players that made the greatest impact on the game it was to be the rugged Brazilian, last season's forgotten man in midfield Sandro who would ultimately be Spurs’ best player on the park.
The former Internacional man partnered Tom Huddlestone in a defensive midfield pairing designed to quash any attacking threat from City, Huddlestone providing the complement to Sandro who was able to provide a certain degree of guile as well as bite.
It was Sandro who would take the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck however with the Brazilian allowing Yaya Toure no time at all in possession of the ball which was a huge factor in Spurs taking a 1-0 lead into the half-time interval. Toure being such an integral part of City’s attacking play with him stifled it appeared as though the Champions were running out of ideas to break Spurs down.
Sandro’s ability to cover huge amounts of space on the pitch became evident as the game progressed with the Brazilian tracking back to areas that were not his responsibility; for example at left back where he made a last ditch tackle to stop Sergio Aguero breaking into the penalty box. It was this commitment to the cause that made it look as if Spurs would earn maximum points from their visits to Manchester this season; alas it was not to be.
In the end the Spurs defence became tired leaving gaps on the left hand side allowing City rejuvenated by the introduction of Maicon at right-back to break through Spurs’ defence almost at will, it was a far cry from the Maicon Spurs fans had seen last on that fateful night when Gareth Bale destroyed him at White Hart Lane.
With the Spurs defence coupled with Sandro’s midfield partner Tom Huddlestone tiring it seemed inevitable that City would score, and though they did, it was Sandro’s continued high levels of energy that kept Spurs in with a shout right up until the final whistle, constantly pressing City’s midfield in particular Yaya Toure whom he had done a job on for much of the game and even in the dying embers of the game Sandro was still chasing, trying to win the ball back.
This performance highlighted what has been apparent for quite a while now and that is that Sandro is Tottenham’s main man in midfield. Following the sale of Luka Modric and the injury layoff hampering Scott Parker’s career at White Hart Lane it has been Sandro who has stepped up to the plate putting in a string of fantastic performances before today’s match at the Etihad and it is a sharp contrast to the young naive 21-year-old who joined up with Spurs in 2010 following a hugely successful career with Internacional in Brazil.
In a midfield including Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart it was difficult for Sandro to avoid being overshadowed and there were times when he didn’t quite stamp his mark on games as was expected, there were some sections of the Spurs faithful that questioned whether Sandro had a future at the club.
Whilst these claims were in the minority, those of which who had seen Sandro play for Internacional in particular in the side’s fantastic run to Copa Libertadores glory in 2010 believed he would, given time come good at Spurs.
Back in Brazil he was the engine in the Internacional midfield alongside the veteran Tinga that saw off challenges from Estudiantes and Sao Paulo before convincingly beating Guadalajara in the final to lead Internacional to their second Libertadores triumph in four years.
Sandro gave Spurs fans the first real glimpse of the standard of football he exhibited in Brazil against AC Milan in the European Cup with the Brazilian winning the man of the match award in the second leg at White Hart Lane.
The signing of Scott Parker to bolster the defensive side of Tottenham’s midfield last season left many feeling as if Sandro would be given much less playing time in the 2011-2012 campaign, although he still made 17 starts in the Premier League last season compared to the 10 the season before.
Sandro was still adapting to the English game and learning more and more the need for physicality in this league and his performances improved week upon week as did his confidence and this improvement was marked by Sandro being selected to represent Brazil at the Olympic Games in London this past summer.
This season and the future
The arrival of former Porto and Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has seen Sandro improve yet further this season, albeit this has coupled with the fact Scott Parker has been out for the whole of the season so far with an injury problem.
Sandro has more than filled the space left by Parker in that midfield and you would be surprised if Parker were to displace Sandro from his spot in the starting eleven, Sandro’s desire to put a challenge in somewhat goes against the footballing stereotypes that go along with his nationality but it is his effective style of play that for me would see him get into any side in the Barclays Premier League at least.
Given freedom to play in the anchoring role In Spurs’ midfield by Villas-Boas Sandro has improved tremendously upon last season with these improvements being illustrated perfectly by the job he did on Yaya Toure this afternoon with Toure only getting a hold on the game when Sandro’s teammates began to tire and Mancini adjusted the tactics to engineer the Ivorian more space.
When you think of the elements to Sandro’s overall game you think of power, tenacity, skill and an ability to win the ball back for his team and then create something with it be that by passing the ball to one of Spurs’ more creative players or venturing on a marauding run himself, all these are the qualities needed for a ball winner in the modern game.
Barcelona’s signing of Alex Song this summer illustrated the need for the best sides in Europe to have a stylish ball winner with some tenacity and you would be hard pushed to argue that Sandro would not be a better fit in the current Barcelona side than Alex Song.
At 23 years of age Sandro still has a lot he needs to work on, consistency being one of the main points but on the whole that side of his game is steadily improving, if he continues he fine run of form under Andre Villas-Boas there is little reason to suggest that there will not be considerable interest in Sandro next summer.
Dare I say it, Manchester United are in particular need of an engine in midfield and with Cheik Tiote appearing to favour staying with Newcastle and Victor Wanyama’s contractual situation still unclear Sandro would be a perfect signing for Sir Alex Ferguson with Sandro having an engine and an ability to win the ball that would free up the more creative players in Manchester United’s midfield such as Tom Cleverley and Anderson magnificently.
One thing is for certain however and that is Sandro is now showing just why Spurs made such a concerted effort to sign him from Brazil as a 21-year old, he is every bit as important to Tottenham’s midfield and their aspirations for Champions League football next season.
He is becoming every bit as vital as for example Yaya Toure is to Manchester City’s hopes of retaining their Premier League crown. You have to say at this point you would fear for Spurs should Sandro pick up a sidelining injury such is the importance of Villas-Boas’ main man in midfield.
What does the future hold for Sandro and Tottenham?
image: © simonw92