Manchester City has lost three matches in a row and was bounced from the Champions League, but it can inch closer to the Premier League title against Tottenham.
Tottenham host Manchester City in a heavyweight Premier League showdown at Wembley Stadium with more significance than might have been expected a week ago.
The expectation was that last weekend’s Manchester derby would be the grand stage on which Pep Guardiola’s City were officially crowned league champions. A win over Jose Mourinho’s United would have sealed the crown for the Citizens.
However, United’s stunning comeback victory left the Etihad Stadium in shock, and meant that City would have to wait at least another week before being crowned Premier League champions.
While it remains only a matter of time until City are officially crowned champions, Guardiola’s side have been left reeling from a bitterly disappointing week.
Following on from their derby defeat last weekend, City suffered a crushing quarter final elimination from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of domestic rivals Liverpool in midweek.
A 5-1 aggregate deficit, coupled with the derby disappointment, has certainly smeared the shine on what has been an otherwise sparkling domestic campaign for the Sky Blues.
Tottenham arrive into this fixture the fresher side, both physically and mentally, having enjoyed a full week’s rest between matches after their 2-1 success away at Stoke last weekend.
Without the distraction of European competition towards the latter stages of the campaign, Spurs are easing towards another top four finish in the league.
That result against Stoke, followed by Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with West Ham last Sunday, has seen Mauricio Pochettino’s side open a 10-point gap ahead of their London rivals. Victory against champions-elect City on Saturday would further enhance their status as one of the country’s elite forces.
Another incentive for Tottenham heading into this mouth-watering clash at Wembley is revenge. While the home side have fared reasonably well against the rest of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ this season, Spurs did succumb to a 4-1 dismantling away at the Etihad just before Christmas.
Avenging that defeat may be in the minds of Pochettino’s side, with City’s scalp the last remaining among the league’s top six which Spurs are yet to claim this season.
The match fitness of defender Toby Alderweireld remains in question heading into this match. Though he is fit to return to action, he was not included in the match day squad for the trip to Stoke last weekend.
The blossoming partnership between his compatriot Jan Vertonghen and summer arrival Davinson Sanchez, coupled with the uncertainty over Alderweireld’s future at the club, may be reasons behind the Belgian’s continued absence from the Spurs setup of late.
Elsewhere, Kyle Walker-Peters will miss out through a hamstring injury, while Harry Winks is still sidelined.
Guardiola, meanwhile, remains without Benjamin Mendy, though the French full back is their only major injury concern.
Tottenham potential lineup (3-4-2-1): Lloris; Dier, Sanchez, Vertonghen; Trippier, Wanyama, Dembele, Davies; Alli, Eriksen; Kane
Man City potential lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Delph; de Bruyne, Fernandinho, D. Silva; Sterling, Aguero, Sane
As was the case in City’s midweek European clash with Liverpool, the midfield battle will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
Much of City’s league success this season has been based on their ability to implement Guardiola’s philosophy of midfield play - to pass and move the ball with speed, precision and purpose.
Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho have been the key components in the City engine room’s enforcement of this approach, and their consistency of domestic success this term has largely depended on it.
De Bruyne in particular has pulled the strings, roaming through dangerous areas of the pitch in which he can provide the decisive link between midfield and attack.
The Belgian maestro’s eye for a killer pass has been one of the strongest points of City’s armory, and the success of any team coming up against Guardiola’s attacking juggernaut would depend largely on stopping the playmaker in his tracks.
Fortunately for Mauricio Pochettino, his side are ably equipped with the playing style and personnel to accomplish this. Mousa Dembele has drawn widespread acclaim this season for his ball retention and combative abilities, often running the show for his side from the middle of the park.
Victor Wanyama may also be deployed at the heart of Spurs’ midfield with similar responsibility, perhaps even to stifle de Bruyne’s fellow magician, David Silva. The battle for midfield supremacy will, however, be contested primarily between the respective Belgian dynamo of each side.
While Tottenham are generally strong against their nearest rivals, City’s rude awakenings in the past week should pump them with added determination and grit heading into this clash.
Moreover, a match between two sides who are spearheaded by Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero respectively surely promises goals aplenty.
Prediction: Tottenham 2-4 Manchester City