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Stefan Ortega: The unlikely hero with Man City's hopes of a fourth straight Premier League title in his hands

Stefan Ortega will replace Ederson in goal for Manchester City this weekend; Jamie Carragher hailed his save from Heung-Min Son as the moment the Premier League title was won; watch Man City vs West Ham live on Sky Sports Main Event from 3pm on Sunday; kick-off 4pm

Stefan Ortega made a huge save against Tottenham
Image: Stefan Ortega made a huge save for Manchester City against Tottenham on Tuesday

"The tennis players say 'the serve to win Wimbledon'... the last game is the most difficult one," Pep Guardiola said with a straight face in the auditorium at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

At 9.42pm last Tuesday, his Manchester City side were facing break point. One man held his nerve.

Stefan Ortega has only played 524 minutes in the Premier League this season but is already being hailed as the man who sealed the title for Manchester City.

The German goalkeeper came on as a substitute for the injured Ederson during the second half of City's crunch game in hand at Tottenham and he kept his side's lead intact as he made a raft of impressive saves, particularly when he denied Heung-Min Son one-on-one in the 86th minute.

Erling Haaland then converted a late penalty, having earlier opened the scoring, to seal a 2-0 win and put City on the brink of a fourth consecutive Premier League title.

A win against West Ham on Sunday - live on Sky Sports - would see their domination of English football continue for a record-breaking period.

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Highlights from Tottenham's match against Manchester City in the Premier League

Rodri hailed the contribution of unsung hero Ortega with the Spaniard telling Sky Sports: "I think we have the best striker in the world and today he made the difference.

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"But people talk about him, and today we needed two goals, but Stefan was simply incredible. We were 1-0 up and if we draw, we are out. So outstanding - three saves. I have no words."

Ortega has now saved the last 11 shots he has faced when coming on as a substitute in the league. According to Opta's xG model, he faced an xG on target of 1.14 against Spurs. Since the start of 2010/11, only three substitute goalkeepers have performed better in a Premier League game.

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Ederson looked emotional as he came off after receiving a head injury against Spurs

Ederson will miss Sunday's final Premier League game and the FA Cup final after the Brazilian sustained a small fracture to his right eye socket following a collision with Cristian Romero.

It means all eyes will be on Ortega, a man who has saved 82.5 per cent of shots faced in his 11 career Premier League appearances.

Gary Neville praised the 31-year-old as arguably "the best second-choice goalkeeper in the Premier League". It is another signal of City's unmatched strength in every department. But just who is their unheralded No 2?

How Ortega emerged as Man City's unlikely hero

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Sky Sports' Dougie Critchley and Peter Smith discuss the importance of Ortega's crucial save against Tottenham and whether it could be one of the best in Premier League history

The majority of Ortega's time at City has been spent on the bench as an understudy to Ederson.

He arrived at the Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2022 after a modest career in his native Germany, which was mainly spent playing in the 2 Bundesliga.

Having come through the ranks at Arminia Bielefeld, he then spent four years at 1860 Munich before returning to his boyhood club.

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Ortega pulls off a risky Cruyff turn inside his six-yard box against Crystal Palace

And he was the figurehead of a revival which saw Arminia return to the Bundesliga for the first time in 11 years in the Covid-hit 2019/20 season.

Ortega missed only one game of Arminia's two seasons back in Germany's top flight but could not help them avoid relegation in 2021/22.

But instead of heading back into the second tier, he found himself at one of the most successful clubs in the world as he joined City on a free transfer.

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Following the win over Spurs, Pep Guardiola admits Manchester City still have a lot of work to do to secure the Premier League title against West Ham on Sunday

His debut came in a Champions League draw with Borussia Dortmund but he has only been used as first-choice stopper in domestic cup competitions and when Ederson has been injured.

His heroic performance at Spurs was his 32nd appearance for Guardiola's side and he has only been on the losing side twice - in Carabao Cup defeats against Southampton and Newcastle.

As most deputy goalkeepers are, he is known as a good team man and would probably be the number-one choice at most other Premier League clubs.

Guardiola has never been worried about having to use Ortega.

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Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne plays down their celebrations following their victory at Tottenham on Tuesday. He says they know that the job is not done yet with regards to winning the Premier League title

"In the one against one, he is one of the best 'keepers I have ever seen in my life. Stand up, don't go down and he is so, so, good," the City boss said.

"Playing FA Cup, Carabao Cup, even this season Ederson had four times setbacks for injuries and always he was so reliable.

"He is an incredible 'keeper so the club and our trainer made an incredible decision to bring him here."

The man who helped shape Ortega

Ortega has gone from the German second tier to Man City
Image: Ortega has gone from the German second tier to Man City

Kurt Kowarz was the goalkeeping coach at 1860 Munich, where he worked with Ortega for two seasons.

Kowarz, 66, is now a scout for the German national football team, and he told Sky Sports that Ortega's ability to spread himself with the use of his feet was commonly deployed during their time together.

"It was a fantastic save," said Kowarz, recalling his stop to deny Son. "He's a very good goalkeeper and is very strong at blocking shots.

Ortega pictured saving a penalty for 1860 Munich
Image: Ortega pictured saving a penalty for 1860 Munich

"There's no fear. Stefan is a very good man with a famous character. He is very close with his family but he is also very mentally strong and very confident.

"Against Spurs, his reaction is already famous in Germany. We already think it will bring the title for City."

So what was it specifically about Ortega's spreading technique which impressed Kowarz?

Ortega is a popular member of the City dressing room
Image: Ortega is a popular member of the City dressing room

"Manuel Neuer has influenced a lot of German goalkeepers with his style in approaching one-v-ones. Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world.

"He's the most complete, both in defending the box and catching the ball while also using it at his feet. But Stefan is an excellent footballer.

"He was an outfield player when he was younger but decided at an early age that he would become a goalkeeper. With his feet, he is world class.

Ortega joins in last season's Champions League triumph
Image: Ortega joins in last season's Champions League celebrations

"I'm surprised he hasn't made the Germany squad for Euro 2024 as with his feet he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and in my opinion has shown he is a very good No 2.

"I would have taken him as the understudy to Neuer for the European Championships as he has shown he is ready to come on if needs be and perform.

"He's someone that doesn't over-think about how difficult or significant the match is. He's very composed and just focuses on doing his job. It was a privilege to work with him and bring him forward."

When Pep learned meaning of 'squeaky-bum time'

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Is this Manchester City's title-defining moment? Ortega makes a huge save from Heung-Min Son as he closed in on goal

Guardiola may not understand the phrase 'squeaky-bum time' but he admitted to feeling "tension" heading into the final few days of the Premier League season.

When Sir Alex Ferguson's famous 'squeaky-bum time' comment, made in 2003 when the then Manchester United boss was trying to heap pressure on title rivals Arsenal, was put to the City manager it drew a puzzled look.

"Translate please," he said. When City's press officer tried to explain it in a way suitable for a public press conference, he got the meaning.

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Jamie Redknapp, Daniel Sturridge and Micah Richards react to Manchester City's win over Spurs and how it moves Guardiola's men to within their fourth PL title in a row

"A lot of pressure? Why didn't Sir Alex make an easier sentence for this moment?" said Guardiola, speaking before his side's trip to Tottenham.

In the moment Son raced through on goal, he certainly knew what it meant as he lurched backwards and wriggled on the touchline in what - for now - is the iconic image of this year's title race.

"Ortega saved the actions, otherwise Arsenal is champion," conceded Guardiola. "That is the reality in modern football. The margins are so, so tight."

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Manchester City seem to have seized the advantage over Arsenal in the Premier League title race, but Sky Sports' Dougie Critchley and Peter Smith explain why there could be twists and turns still to come on the final day..

Asked about falling to the floor as Son looked set to score, Guardiola joked: "I have problems with my back and that position is better!

"How is a team a team? Because of Ortega's save. Do you know how many times Son punished us in the last seven, eight years? Can I tell you how many goals he scored against us with Harry Kane?

"Oh my God, and I said 'not again', but Stefan makes an incredible save. It was amazing but he has this talent."

Carragher: This was Arsenal's 'Kompany moment'

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Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher discuss what Manchester City's 2-0 win against Tottenham in the Premier League means for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta

Jamie Carragher compared Ortega's save to the dramatic long-range goal scored by then-City captain Vincent Kompany that beat Leicester 1-0 and moved his side above Liverpool going into the final day of the 2018/19 season.

"When I think of me a few years ago as a Liverpool fan, watching Vincent Kompany put that shot in against Leicester, that is that moment now for Arsenal fans," said Carragher.

"That Son chance is the moment Arsenal fans will remember in five, 10 years' time. Even if they win the title in the next five years - and they've got a chance of doing that because they're a great team with a great manager - that chance will still haunt them.

Haaland Ortega
Image: Haaland celebrates with Ortega against Tottenham

"Ortega, tonight alone, has won them the Premier League title. Obviously a lot's gone into that over the season but when you look at this game, if he doesn't make those saves at 1-0, Arsenal will win the league. That's how close it is."

Kyle Walker was equally impressed by his goalkeeper, comparing his technical ability to a Bayern Munich and Germany legend.

"Stefan has got that spread, hasn't he. He reminds me of Manuel Neuer, the German goalkeepers have got that spreading [technique]," the former Spurs defender said.

Ortega saves from Son
Image: Ortega was named player of the match by Carragher

"I think Manuel's (Akanji) been fantastic all night, but it's just as a defender, it's sod's law. One mistake and it can end up in the goal.

"He's got that spread where he's got down and the big calf has come into play. I bet his heart was in his mouth. I was just thinking 'No! Not again!' For Son, we've spent so much time together, we were at Tottenham.

"He's the nicest man in football, so for him to do it to me, I don't think I could forgive him. But, listen, the stars aligned for us. We've got a chance to go and do it the last game of the season."

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Jamie Carragher claims Arsenal fans will always be haunted by Ortega's save from Son and suggests it is the moment Manchester City all but confirmed the Premier League title

Eagle-eyed City supporters revelling in the club's 2023 success during the last festive period recognised their goalkeeper outside Albert's Schloss in Manchester, serenading him with a rendition of 'Just sold my car to Stefan Ortega'.

Ortega is no longer the hardest professional footballer to spot. The catchy chant which bears his name is likely to be sung with even more gusto if he plays another starring role in City's march to the title on Sunday.

Ortega is the only keeper in Premier League history to make at least 10 appearances and have a save ratio of over 80 per cent
Image: Ortega is the only keeper in Premier League history to make at least 10 appearances and have a save ratio of over 80 per cent

He is the only keeper in Premier League history to make at least 10 appearances and have a save ratio of over 80 per cent. There have been 15 occasions when a goalkeeper change has occurred in the top flight this season, and four of them has seen Ederson replaced by Ortega.

This time, he has had a few days to prepare. Having failed to qualify for a Premier League winner's medal last season due to making just three appearances, this time there can be no denying him the honour.

The balls are in Ortega's hands. It's advantage Manchester City.

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