Aside from rear-guard performances at the Bernabeu, an away trip to Manchester City represents the biggest challenge Tottenham have faced so far this season. While Spurs will take confidence from back-to-back victories in the top flight, Saturday’s opponents have just set an English top flight record of 15 consecutive wins.
That doesn’t mean Manchester City are an unbeatable team though; achieving a result against them simply requires Mauricio Pochettino to find the right answers to these four crucial questions….
Since a shock defeat to Leicester City, Pochettino has found himself reverting back to 4-2-3-1 – the tried and trusted formation the Tottenham boss used almost without fail during his first few seasons in English football. It’s clearly had the desired effect; across all competitions, the Lilywhites have won three of their last four, also drawing with an in-form Watford side.
But Manchester City are an incredibly different animal and considering how relentless they’ve been going forward this season, it might make more sense to get an extra defensive body on the pitch by setting up the side in the 5-3-2 system we’ve seen from Spurs at times this season. It’s a big call for Pochettino; some will argue managers shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken and that the Argentine has paid the price for too much tinkering at times this term.
That being said, it feels as if Tottenham need to be more proactive in counter-acting City if they’re to come away from the Etihad Stadium with a decent result this weekend.
Inherently linked to which formation Tottenham use, those lining up on the defensive flanks could well be the difference on Saturday – especially the right. Fabian Delph has performed a decent job on the most-part this season but his lack of defensive instincts could become prevalent if he’s truly tested by an opposite number like Serge Aurier, who has the pace and power to bring Spurs up the pitch on the counter-attack.
But Kieran Trippier has been the trusted option on the most part this season and it’s a similar case on the opposite side; Danny Rose offers the kind of dynamism that seems so important in such a big game, but Ben Davies has proved himself to be incredibly dependable. Aurier and Rose both started in midweek, suggesting Davies and Trippier will return at the weekend.
But that shouldn’t be an automatic assumption on Pochettino’s part – the wide men will set the emphasis of his entire side.
Another selection dilemma inspired by the picks in the 2-0 win over Brighton. Dele Alli’s struggled for form this season and found himself benched on Wednesday night, which could well be the kick up the backside the England international needs to quickly turn his campaign around.
But there’s a real dilemma here – a question of risk versus reward. While Pochettino will want his best players on the pitch at the Etihad Stadium, Tottenham will need every player producing if they’re to return to north London with at least a point.
Passengers simply can’t be afforded and leaving out Alli again would make a real statement to the youngster, who appears to have fallen for his own hype this season.
They may seem like a perfect side but Pep Guardiola’s team inevitably contains some weaknesses – it’s just a question of whether Tottenham can work out how to best exploit them.
Perhaps the most obvious is set pieces; City aren’t the tallest side and although few teams have won enough corners and free kicks to take advantage of that this season, the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and Harry Kane could have a huge impact if Christian Eriksen provides top-class deliveries from those situations.
Aside from that, it must be remembered how makeshift this City defence is at the moment – Eliaquim Mangala has returned from the abyss to fill in at centre-half while midfielder Fabian Delph has become the emergency left-back.
If Spurs can consistently test both players by using the pace of Heung-min Son in the right channel, they may find real joy on the counter-attack.
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