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Stefan Ortega: Manchester City goalkeeper proves hero as title looms

image source, Getty Images

image caption, Stefan Ortega excelled after coming on as a substitute in the second half

  • Author, Phil McNulty
  • Role, Chief Football Writer at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Manchester City have seen an unlikely hero emerge from their galaxy of superstars to make a potentially defining contribution in their quest for an unprecedented fourth straight Premier League title.

Pep Guardiola was rightly cautious when he took off goalkeeper Ederson with City leading 1-0 after he suffered a nasty blow to the head in a heavy collision at the foot of his post with Tottenham defender Cristian Romero.

Ederson, who has had an eye problem, did not appear happy with the decision – taken on the advice of the club doctor – but his manager was perfectly justified, not only acting in the best interests of the Brazilian goalkeeper, but also because he has complete faith in his replacement Stefan Ortega.

And in a 21-minute cameo of the highest quality, Ortega – who has performed with distinction every time he has deputized for Ederson this season – could very well have City’s sixth title in seven seasons.

When the final whistle blew and the club were one win away from being champions again, Guardiola went straight to Ortega and greeted the German with a kiss on the cheek for his crucial contribution. It was well deserved.

Guardiola didn’t hold back with his praise saying: “Ortega is a world-class goalkeeper. An exceptional, exceptional goalkeeper. Ederson didn’t have a concussion, he had an eye problem. He couldn’t see well so the doctor said. He should I’m changing.”

Spurs completely scoffed at cynics who suggested they could relax as any kind of positive result could hand rivals Arsenal their first Premier League title in 20 years.

In fifth place, Ange Postecoglou’s side were fully committed to chasing an own goal as they chased a Champions League spot and it wasn’t for lack of effort as they came so close to upsetting the traditional title of City. They were disappointed in the end as the defeat confirmed Aston Villa’s fourth-placed finish, and they will now join European football’s top flight.

Ortega’s impact was instant, denying Spurs substitute Dejan Kulusevski with a fine save, and then the same player soon after as City almost paid the price for a performance that wasn’t one of their best.

The biggest moment came in the final minutes, with City clinging to a one-goal lead, when Son Heung-min collected the ball and raced clear, with only Ortega to beat. It was the kind of opportunity the South Korean has taken with aplomb so many times in his Spurs career.

image source, Getty Images

image caption, Erling Haaland is the top scorer in the Premier League with 27 goals this season

However, Ortega stayed strong, stayed on his feet, waited for Son to make a move before stretching out his right foot to make the save that could seal another Premier League triumph.

Guardiola, clearly fearing the worst, threw himself dramatically backwards in his technical area in a moment animated by agony and then relief, while Manchester City captain Kyle Walker likened Ortega, and the rescue, with the goalkeeper’s compatriot, Bayern Munich. Manuel Neuer icon. Praise indeed.

It was Spurs’ last half as Erling Haaland added his second of the night from the penalty spot in stoppage time for his 38th goal of the season. If City beat West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, the formalities will be complete.

Haaland may grab the headlines as his remarkable goalscoring streak continues, despite this season not being as prolific as his first, but Ortega has come first. The goalkeeper’s involvement was short and sweet, but spectacular and probably decisive.

It was needed because this was not City at their peak, but they are so well trained in being in this position that a muscle memory kicks in to ensure they get the job done at the pressure points of the season.

Since City lost at Aston Villa in December, they are unbeaten in 22 Premier League games, winning 18 and drawing four, in a sort of unstoppable run that threatens to break Arsenal’s hearts in the same way they broke – and Liverpool on the last day of the match. season from previous years.

Experience means their players seem insensitive to natural pressures and when you have players of Haaland’s and Kevin de Bruyne’s quality, allied to their telepathic rapport, the ability to make the difference always remains.

And so it proved in the 51st minute for the vital opener, De Bruyne providing the 112th pass of his City career to set up a goal for Haaland.

It still needed Ortega’s remarkable intervention, which will long be remembered by his grateful manager and team-mates as they rushed to him to show their appreciation before the celebrations began in front of jubilant traveling fans.

City are now in the position they have so often occupied and one they rarely slip from.

It would be a shock to see them stumble now – and much of the credit for that has to go to Ortega.