Manchester City have arguably been the greatest underachievers of this Premier League season. While expectations were inflated by their strong start to the campaign, their performances during the winter months have underwhelmed with far greater frequency than they have impressed. The cherry on top of it all was the 4-0 defeat to Everton last weekend. A result that would have seen other managers’ jobs under threat, in fact.
They were Champions-elect in September, now Manchester City are having to keep pace with Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool to have a chance of finishing in the top four. Pep Guardiola needs time, which is fair enough considering the squad he inherited, but finishing outside of the Champions League places would be an utter disaster.
On Saturday evening they host Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium. Mauricio Pochettino out-manoeuvred Guardiola in their meeting at White Hart Lane earlier this season, a victory to go along with the two Pochettino notched over the two-time Premier League champions last season.
Playing at home on this occasion, City cannot afford another defeat. Their city rivals are now only two points behind them, ready to pounce on any points dropped, too. The manner of defeat to Everton can only be forgotten if Guardiola’s team can prove that it was as close to rock-bottom as they get. Another poor showing, even against a very strong Spurs side, would only see the criticism amplified.
The Everton result, even more than the performance, changes what this match means to Manchester City in the short term. Victory over the Toffees would have made this clash with Tottenham a chance to really put pressure on Chelsea. Instead, City need a result to avoid slipping into sixth place. Sixth place, in this Premier League season at least, is last place in the first mini-league. A position occupied by Manchester United for the majority of the season, falling down that solitary league position would present a significant psychological blow to City.
With players struggling for form, City need one of their stars to drag them away from this rut. Having lost four of their last eight, they are barely treading water at the moment. Whether it be a Sergio Aguero finishing masterclass or Yaya Toure rolling back the years to dominate the midfield like his best days in 2012, Guardiola needs one of his stars to produce the goods against Tottenham. For all Spurs’ excellent form of late, Manchester City have all the talent to produce an emphatic victory, however unlikely it may seem.
These are the sort of matches that make a team. They are the performances that can live long in the memory and prove pivotal come the end of the campaign. Manchester City could not have a tougher visitor than Spurs this weekend, but that is exactly why it is a chance to make a statement. There is a good chance that, however their season finishes, this match will be reflected on as a turning point or a missed opportunity.