It is no secret that this season has been something of a procession for Manchester City, which has left their fellow top six clubs powerless to do much more than attempt to lay down a marker for next season.
At the start of the month, it looked unlikely that anyone would be able lay a glove on Pep Guardiola’s runaway leaders, but City’s last three matches have blown that idea out of the water.
City’s invincible aura has disappeared in just 270 minutes of football. Liverpool have beaten them home and away, bookending Manchester United’s best 45 minutes of football since Sir Alex Ferguson retired to inflict three consecutive defeats.
In doing so, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have laid down a huge marker that they want to be title challengers next time around. United’s inspired comeback showed that they can stand up and be counted.
Those results mean that, as Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham prepare to host the champions-in-waiting on Saturday night, the onus is now on them to show their mettle. City have been duffed up by two members of the top four and now Spurs have an opportunity to stick the knife in further.
Of much more acute interest to Pochettino than Pep’s struggles is again bridging the gap between his developing side and the Premier League pinnacle. They have an opportunity to make a real statement.
Their away record against the big six is shocking, with just two wins their last 20 such matches but their home record is far superior with 10 victories from the past 18.
City gave Spurs a 4-1 chasing in December, back when there was the semblance of a title race, and avenging that psychological blow must also be on Pochettino’s agenda.
He is keen to see his side make incremental improvements, and isn’t too concerned about any competition that isn’t the Premier League or the Champions League.
From that point of view, Pochettino may even view Saturday’s match against Guardiola’s runaway leaders – and the opportunity to make another leap in their development it represents – as more important than the FA Cup semi-final against Man United the weekend after.
City inflicted Spurs’ last league defeat and recovering from by far their most tumultuous period of the season and completing the double at Wembley would be galling for Spurs fans, who are keen to point out that the on-pitch checkpoints they pass with landmark results are greater evidence of progress than silverware.
City have been beaten by Liverpool in their biggest games of the season. Manchester United spoilt their once-in-a-generation opportunity to beat their most bitter rivals and clinch the title.
Those results represented huge statements. They also mean that City will be at their most vulnerable on Saturday.
If Spurs can’t lay down a marker of their own against their bedraggled visitors this weekend then it would be another sign that they are still short of being real title contenders.