After last week’s Manchester derby, the Premier League title looks like it should be Manchester City’s to lose, but less than a week after such a high, the league leaders host Tottenham Hotspur, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side have proved to be something of a bogey team for the Blues in recent years.
Last season, Spurs took four points off City. They won hands down at White Hart Lane, precipitating a run where Pep Guardiola’s side lost their early-season lustre; and they drew 2-2 at the Etihad in a game where the home team was unlucky not to get all three points.
In that sense, Spurs bookended City’s poor run of form over last winter, one that saw them spend the season well off the pace in the title race. Before the first Tottenham game, City seemed untouchable, since the second one in February, however, Guardiola’s side have only lost one league game – away to eventual champions Chelsea last season.
And yet, City haven’t played Spurs yet. It was the north London side who turned a seemingly-unstoppable Guardiola side into a floundering mess for the next few weeks. It looks unlikely that even a defeat this weekend would precipitate a similar collapse, but there are some questions the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager needs to answer before this weekend’s tie.
How to protect Otamendi and Mangala
For all the money spent and all the overhauling of the Manchester City squad since Guardiola’s arrival, the question posed of the Catalan this weekend is the same one posed week-in and week-out to Manuel Pellegrini before him. There has been a significant improvement in Nicolas Otamendi, but Eliaquim Mangala isn’t fancied by his manager, and it’s clear that he’s City’s weak link.
An unstable centre-back pairing could make sure the Blues’ impressive attack has to think twice about risky balls that could lead to counter-attacks, and so even if City have the lion’s share of the possession they could still be blunted by the fact they haven’t been able to add any depth to the back-line beyond Mangala.
Who starts up front?
Last weekend, Gabriel Jesus was given the nod over Sergio Aguero, probably because Guardiola needed the Brazilian’s work-rate to harry United when they won the ball and ensuring their pacey players weren’t easily set away on the counter.
This weekend, Spurs will pose a similar threat, if not an even greater one. And even though Jesus hasn’t scored in six games in all competitions, whilst Aguero scored in midweek, the Brazilian might still get the nod on Saturday.
How to cope with Spurs’ pace?
Perhaps Tottenham’s biggest threat comes from City’s biggest weakness right now: the defence. Injuries may yet take their toll on a City side who have lost their two best centre-backs as well as their only recognised left-back. And with the pace, athleticism and technique of Serge Aurier, stand-in full-back Fabian Delph will need to be on the top of his game.
Aside from the Ivorian wing-back, City will have to watch out for Heung-Min Son, whose form is sky-high, and will surely make life difficult for Guardiola’s makeshift defence.
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