This weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures would be a little flat if it weren’t for the saving grace of Manchester City hosting Spurs on Saturday in the late kick-off. The two teams are poles apart on the form table right now, but big games can often be a leveler, and we’re so excited by this one that we’ve made it our Fixture in Focus here at Football FanCast.
Even though they are the away team, Mauricio Pochettino’s Lilywhites will be entering this one high on confidence given their performances of late. Indeed, a run of six straight league victories has catapulted them up the table and into second place, sparking talk of another title challenge – which seemed a long shot when they had drawn six of their opening eleven matches.
We’re sure the Argentine gaffer has a plan in place to beat Pep Guardiola’s out-of-sorts Man City, but just in case he doesn’t, we’ve kindly put together a how-to-guide…
Pochettino has a real dilemma when it comes to picking a system for this game. With Jan Vertonghen injured, there must be a temptation on his part to revert from the 3-4-2-1 that has been serving the Londoners so well of late and move back to a tried and tested 4-2-3-1, but we think the Argentine should be bold stick with his current set-up.
The logical choice to step straight in is Ben Davies amid doubts surrounding Kevin Wimmer’s future, which were somewhat highlighted last weekend when he was missing from the bench vs. West Brom. The Welshman will have solid team-mates in Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld alongside him and should be able to use his ability on the ball to funnel passes into the midfield.
Further forward the wing-backs pick themselves in Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, who will need to be at their energetic best to give Pochettino’s team width, while Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele will provide the physicality and aggression in midfield to hassle Man City’s ball-players.
Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli should play off Harry Kane up front in the sort of positions that will allow them to sit in when Spurs don’t have the ball and press from the front, blocking passing lanes and forcing Man City’s centre-backs to go long or back to Claudio Bravo. This set-up obviously has attacking benefits, too, with the pair close enough to Kane to offer him the support and runners beyond he needs.
It’s more complicated that just ‘getting in Man City’s faces’ in terms of pressing, but there’s no doubt that the Citizens are weak when faced with a team who are desperate to work hard and close them down across the pitch. In that respect, the Lilywhites are their kryptonite, with Pochettino’s team based around energy and pressing. If the likes of Alli and Eriksen can block passing lanes high up the pitch, Man City will struggle to get the ball in to their dangerous attacking cast. They could go long, but in Wanyama, Dembele, Alderweireld and Dier, Spurs have the height and physicality to overpower them.
Granted, it’s not always possible to simply press players of Man City’s quality out of a game, but Everton showed last week that, in their current state, Guardiola’s side are more vulnerable than ever to such an approach. Likewise, Spurs can take heart from their 2-0 win over the sky-blue-clad outfit at White Hart Lane earlier this season.
Although there’s a popular narrative that Sterling is a weak-willed player who can be bullied out of games, the winger is actually a spiky character with good physicality who can come to the fore in important matches. When Man City slipped to defeat at Liverpool on New Year’s Eve, he was their best player and looked a constant threat when on the ball. With Spurs likely to offer some space in behind their wing-backs, the England international will need to be watched closely.
Give him too much time and his ball control will allow him to drive into the box, while he has the wherewithal to thread neat passes that the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero can make use of. The best approach may be to limit his time from first touch to second to prevent him from a) spinning away and b) getting enough time to make a decisive move.
With four assists in his last four league games, Eriksen is quietly Spurs’ dangerman. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have been sharing the headlines, but the Dane’s passing and energy make this Tottenham team tick in the final third, while his positional awareness make him a key cog for Pochettino going the other way.
The one-time Ajax ace will have to be at his best on both fronts vs. Man City, but he has shown he can do it on the big occasion, with his performance in the recent win at home to Chelsea a case in point.