Manchester City – Tottenham (Premier League)
Manchester City and Tottenham will take to the pitch with the Mancunians trailing their opponents by a single point. In fact, neither team can afford to drop points at this stage if they are serious about their hopes and dreams (the title for City and Champions League football for Spurs), particularly as both come off defeats in their last Premier League matches.
Manchester City have been in top form at home – with five wins in five matches – with top signing Álvaro Negredo, in particular, putting his superb skill set on display when playing at the Etihad. While in front of their supporters, City tend to score almost at will, as demonstrated against CSKA Moscow (5-2), Norwich City (7-0) or city rivals Manchester United (4-1). The wonderful link-up play between Agüero, David Silva and Nasri frequently put opponents to the sword and the successive attacking waves from the men in sky blue usually don’t take long to find chinks in the opposing side’s armour. However, David Silva will not be starting this time around, as will probably be the case of irreplaceable – but often injured lately – captain Vincent Kompany. City will certainly be buoyed by the three consecutive wins over the past three seasons when playing Tottenham at the Etihad, while it must be said that all of those were in fact narrow wins (2-1, 3-2 and 1-0). If they are to enjoy the same level of success this time around, they will have to really put their opponents to the test with silky moves and good combination play, since Tottenham have been playing their best football away from home, largely due to their consistent defensive organisation.
Probable line-up: Pantilimon – Zabaleta, Demichelis, Nastasic, Clichy – Touré, Fernandinho – Navas, Nasri, Agüero, Negredo
As for Tottenham, playing away from home may well a blessing in disguise (unlike what happens with most teams, including Sunday’s opponents). In fact, the record shows that the only goal André Villas-Boas’ charges have conceded on the road was against Arsenal – coincidentally their only defeat away from White Hart Lane. While their away form impresses, it’s the number of goals (both scored and conceded) that strikes the most, with a paltry 9 goals for and 6 goals against, three of which came at the Lane at the hands of West Ham. Following the departure of Gareth Bale and several costly (if shrewd) signings, it seems AVB hasn’t still found the ideal formula to get his team to attack properly or deliver much-needed service to the starving record-signing striker Roberto Soldado. If past matches are anything to go by, expect a defensively solid Spurs, on the lookout for a quick breakaway or a set-piece, most likely aimed at the head of Michael Dawson or Vertonghen. As far as injuries are concerned, Christian Eriksen will be out after limping out of Denmark’s friendly with Norway and will likely be replaced with Lewis Holtby. Nacer Chadli and Emmanuel Adebayor will also be absent, while Danny Rose should not be fit enough to start, with Vertonghen keeping his place at left-back.
Probable line-up: Lloris – Walker, Dawson, Chiriches, Vertonghen – Paulinho, Sandro – Townsend, Holtby, Lennon – Soldado
Manchester City will most likely try to stifle Spurs right out of the gate and try to get a goal in early, since it has been clear the London side struggle when they have to chase the result, hence the constant problems at home. Since AVB will see a draw as a good result to take from the Etihad, the responsibility of playing positive, proactive football will surely fall unto City, a team that cannot waste any more chances of sticking close to the remaining title contenders. Spurs, in turn, will definitely try to capitalise on City’s unimpressive defensive play, particularly after they give the ball away.