It’s the game of the weekend at the Etihad when in form Tottenham visit Manchester City. Spurs are looking to record their 4th win in a row against Manchester City, the type of run they have not enjoyed since pre Sheikh Mansour’s Millions.
It’s fair to say that Man City are struggling for form but it would be silly to overlook them given the attacking players at their disposal. Pep Guardiola conceded the title in his post match press conference last week but I don’t believe a man with such resolute faith in his playing style would really accept that hope of turning things around to be top of the pile at the end of this season is gone. City players will know what this game means, and I’m not expecting them to have thrown in the towel.
From a Tottenham perspective, this game has a sense of de ja vu from the corresponding fixture last year. It falls a couple of weeks earlier in the schedule but comes off of the back of an impressive Christmas period and a win would mean being strongly considered as part of the title race for the second half of the season.
That day Spurs came away with a 2-1 win via a late Eriksen winner which prompted a full length Klinsmann dive across my living room. The subsequent title challenge lasted longer than bruises and the Spurs camp will be confident in igniting another attempt at chasing down the league leaders into the latter weeks of the season.
They have every right to be confident given their recent form, and will buoyed further by City’s comparative struggles. You look at the Spurs team really right now and there is no obvious weakness in terms of the individuals filling spots 1-11.
Manchester City are still favourites for the game and I would not expect them to be as impotent with their possession as they were at Goodison Park last week. Spurs’s job will be to frustrate City and I thoroughly expect Spurs to take the game to their opponents.
Danny Rose and Kyle Walker have received a large share of the plaudits for their performances this season and are responsible for a high proportion of Tottenham’s attacks. Their average positions in the West Brom victory were so advanced they were in line with Harry Kane, but they’ll need to be a lot more wary of the attacking threat posed by City’s front four and may need to be more selective about when to maraud forward.
For City, it’s true they’ve had some poor results lately, but it’s also fair to say certain things haven’t quite gone their way. Narrowly missing a couple of chances in the Chelsea game and being denied a penalty last week at key times in the game that could have made things simpler. Writing them off at home would be foolish. It would not be surprising at all if it all came together on Saturday and they pick up the time of win that I’m about to predict for Tottenham.
Spurs must feel though they can snuff out the attacking threat as they did against Chelsea recently and exploit the clear weaknesses in defense. If the first goal goes to Spurs you could easily see the confidence drain away from the back line, particularly Stones who looks like he wants to be anywhere else but the spotlight. The key to this game could be how courageous Spurs are in committing the full backs forward.
Getting them into the attack could see them overpower Cities ageing counterparts, whilst in doing so could play into City’s hands and support their counter attack which is the strongest part of their game currently. Big performances again from Wanyama and Dembele should allow Spurs to take this gamble and play their own game despite being away from home. Fernandinho will be a big loss for City in the middle of the park, and the immobile if still talented Toure could struggle for the required intensity levels.
I expect Fernandinho to be missed a lot more than Vertonghen and suspect Dier and Wimmer may be assigned to double up on Aguero when City play their intricate short passes around the box to make up for the Belgians absence.
Despite City’s breathtaking best still being better than Tottenham’s it has not been seen too often this season, and in the league it has not been produced against a side of Spurs’ quality. If Spurs play to their best I expect them to win this game as it will both nullify City and still pose a threat to the struggling back line, whilst City will not be able to outclass Tottenham for 90 minutes without those defenders coming under some spells of pressure. There is no reason to suspect Spurs will not turn up for this game.
Weighing it up, given the form of the two sides and their respective strengths it’s too good an opportunity for Tottenham to pass up, and there’s not enough current grounds for me to not suggest a Tottenham win away. Especially if that first goal goes Spurs’ way. The crowd could silence, the defence will get nervy and Spurs are in rampant mood to punish any indecision.
If City do lose this, then the white flag Pep offered last week will be waving faster than before, and there will be no further doubt that Spurs will be marching on to another exciting title chase.
I’m not overly confident but there is absolutely no reason not to be hopeful and a lot less to fear for Spurs than they can offer themselves.
Prediction: 1-3 Tottenham 22/1
Dan De Luca