As Edin Dzeko put his fourth goal past Brad Friedel in August, things looked bleak for Spurs. Two games, no points, one goal scored and eight conceded. Spurs were embarrassed and few would have believed that the return leg of this fixture would have such a bearing on the title race. If City are beaten, Man United will have a chance to go equal top and leave Spurs just two points behind. Spurs are looking up the table and Man City will want to knock Spurs out of the title race.
This is the third season in a row that the Spurs-City match at Eastlands is potentially seismic. Two years ago, Spurs sealed their place in the Champions League with a 1-0 victory. Last season, City won by the same score line and knocked Spurs out of the race for fourth. On both occasions it was Peter Crouch with the decisive contribution.
Both sides are missing key men. For City, suspended Kompany and international absentee Yaya Toure leave an important hole in the team. Spurs have Adebayor ineligible and Brazilian midfielder Sandro also missing through injury. The loss of Toure is important because of the Ivorian’s versatility. He is brilliant on both sides of the ball and his potential replacements; Nasri and De Jong, are far more one dimensional. Both are excellent in their role, but neither can do both jobs in the way Toure can. Kompany has been the outstanding centre half in England in the last year. His absence cannot be overstated and his understudy; Savic, is untested and a potential weakness.
Despite Spurs’ outstanding record in this fixture, City are strong favourites. Their 57 goals scored is imposing and they’ve only conceded four goals in ten matches at home this season.
City are not that far away from Spurs from a statistical point of view. Spurs have created eight more chances and twelve more tackles; virtually identical numbers across 21 matches. City make one more pass per minute. That adds up to 1,000 more completed passes so far this season. The biggest advantage they have is in chance conversion. City have been clinical. They have converted 19% of them; Spurs have just 14%. That leads to a statistical anomaly. Emmanuel Adebayor, Spurs’ top scorer in the league this season, has converted just 15% of his chances. In contrast, Jermain Defoe is at 21%. Incidentally, Defoe has improved his chance conversion by more than double. He converted just 10% last season. He is likely to make his eighth start of the campaign on Sunday and his more direct approach should serve Spurs well. Defoe is also more prone to run with the ball. He has 10 successful dribbles, two thirds of Adebayor’s season total.
This is an area where City can be exploited. They have been dribbled past 144 times (compared to Spurs’ 110) and their unfamiliar centreback pairing is vulnerable. If Spurs are able to get enough of the ball (they had just 40% in the 5-1) their playmakers will be able to find space for their ball runners. Bale, Lennon, Defoe, Walker and Assou-Ekotto are all dangerous runners and Modric, Van der Vaart and Parker are capable of finding space with their passes.
It is important to remember the value of momentum. City have lost three and drawn two of their last six matches. Spurs are unbeaten in seven league games and if they win on Sunday, they will earn nine days of positive coverage (until their next league game). The narrative will shift to ‘surging Spurs’ and ‘City in crisis’. Witness the reaction to the draw with Wolves on Saturday.
Despite the headlines, titles are not really won in these heavyweight clashes. This match will not decide anything but both sides will treat it like a cup game.
We’ll leave you with the passing stats from last years game via our Quick Stats area on our Opta Stats Centre (Subscribe Now).