Pep Guardiola’s all-stars trot in to London town on Monday night fresh off the back of what the Man City manager described as one of the best performances (in the first half at least) he was ever seen from his team. City became the British first team to beat Shakhtar Donetsk away last Tuesday and did so with typically outrageous aplomb. A little less than twenty four hours later City’s next opponents Spurs, slipped to an bitterly disappointing draw away at PSV in a game they really had to win in order to prolong their Champions League journey beyond the group stages. These respective midweek games seemed to fairly accurately reflect where each team is currently at. One continued to prove to the footballing world that they could very well be the best pound for pound team in Europe while the other continues to strive for success that their talented squad just cannot quite reach.
Thus, many will back Manchester City to take all three points back up the road with them on Monday night yet, despite Spurs’ recent setback in Europe, they could provide a stern test for City if they can replicate the glimpses of excellence that they have shown from time to time this season. After three of their top six rivals won at the weekend, the pressure will be both managers to get something from the game, even though he haven’t hit November yet.
For league favourites City, its fairly clear that they won’t have things all their own way this season as a significantly strengthened Liverpool look poised to push them hard in the league and that’s without considering an unbeaten Chelsea side who are playing the kind of football that Pep himself loves to bear witness to. Nevertheless, arguably City, who have been without talisman Kevin De Bruyne until recently, look to be going from strength to strength and that’s a very scary thought for their rivals as Halloween approaches. The addition of Riyad Mahrez to what was already a sublime attack means that Pep has a bordering on ridiculous amount of options to chose from when it comes the front five or six players. A recent example being the fact Raheem Sterling was rested last weekend for the demolition of Burnley then deployed in midweek to turn in a man of the match performance versus Shakhtar. And now that De Bruyne is getting back to somewhere near full fitness, Guardiola has the kind of selection headache that most managers can only dream of.
So clearly Spurs will have their hands full containing a City attack that also happens to be headlined by one Sergio Aguero. It also doesn’t help matters that their usual defensive solidity under boss Mauricio Pochettino has showed cracks versus the bigger teams with two large errors of judgement from senior players Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Llroris costing them dearly in Eindhoven on Wednesday night. No such dips in concentration can be afforded versus an attack as deadly as City’s. Pochettino will be well aware of this though and will no doubt continue to back and show faith in players that have collectively helped to transform Spurs from a good side into serious title contenders in the past few seasons. Indeed, domestically Spurs have won their past four league games on the bounce, conceding just one goal in that time, leaving them just two points behind City going into Monday night’s contest. Not bad for a team who are apparently off colour and showing signs of early season weariness.
However, Spurs under Pochettino have never had much of an issue rolling over the lesser sides in the league, it’s their record versus the now ‘top six’ which has lead to them narrowly missing out on both domestic league and cup success. It looked as though they had bucked that trend at Old Trafford in August with what was described as a watershed victory for the club. Though a few weeks later after a sloppy away defeat to Watford they were comfortably beaten at home by Liverpool and talk of a ‘new Tottenham’ seemed to quickly die away. Now, after another frustrating result in a key game, they have the opportunity to really make a statement to both their fans and the rest of the league by defying the odds and beating City at Wembley.
The issue of course being how difficult a task that looks to be. Spurs do have the tools to hurt a City back line that has only conceded three goals in the league all season yet those tools are perhaps not as sharp they have been in recent seasons. Harry Kane does have five goals in nine premiership games but hasn’t quite recaptured the form of previous seasons just yet, while Dele Alli will likely not be fit enough to return and Christian Eriksen, despite a great performance versus PSV, is still coming back to full match fitness himself. Players like Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura have impressed this season and Spurs might need a special performance from one of them to supplement the traditional Spurs attack and cause City enough defensive problems to earn victory. Whichever eleven Pochettino puts out will have to be well above the level they have been at in recent games, where they have often had to grind out victories after that home defeat to Liverpool last month.
And there lies the crux of the problem for Spurs on Monday night, they will indeed have to significantly up their level of performance in order to gain a victory that could truly put a marker down for the rest of their season. Meanwhile however, you feel their opponents simply have to maintain anywhere remotely near current level in order to gain at least a point or all three at Wembley. If for some unknown reason David Silva, Mahrez, Sterling or Sane aren’t at it, Bernando Silva can come on to provide the attack a different dimension. If John Stones makes a mistake, Ederson can spare his blushes with an excellent save and so on. And after seeing what Liverpool could do on the break versus Spurs a couple of months ago, Pep will likely tell his team to go for the jugular in order to bounce back to the top of table. As City themselves need to send a message across the river Mersey to their main title rivals just as much as Spurs need to show their fans that they are a team fit for the brand new stadium they are patiently waiting for.
So it’s hard to look past a City victory in this one, as its perhaps the wrong time in the season for Spurs to face and overcome a team as good as Pep Guardiola’s side. However, as stated above, the home side have world class players all over the pitch, who could at earn them at least a point at Wembley. And if they can cause an upset and get all three they would almost inconceivably go above City in a league that is so tight at the top that making any bold predictions about who will come out on top of the pile still somehow seems foolish, even with a team like City involved.
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