Man City seized the prized position of Champions League football last season at the expense of Tottenham. Sunday will be Spurs’ first opportunity to stake their claim to return. This will be the first real opportunity for Spurs and the first genuine threat to City’s 100% start to the season. It is 1st against last and a match-up of two of the most talented squads in the Premier League. It also sees the clash of the two big want away stars of the summer, both still where they ended the last season.
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?
This fixture last season has oddly been remembered by pundits as one in which City dominated and Spurs were lucky. Anyone who actually watched the game will remember a game in which Spurs were banging on the door for the first hour, unable to get past an inspired Joe Hart, until conceding a few late chances to the citizens.
During that game, Spurs won only 9 aerial challenges (Man City won 23) despite the presence of King and Dawson at the back. The ability of City to stop Spurs in the air should be less of a concern on Sunday. Given that Crouch is out, it can be assumed that City will dominate aerially anyway. If Spurs choose to play the ball in the air, they will likely be toothless once again. In this fixture last season, Spurs sent in 34 crosses and created 13 chances. At Eastlands, Spurs also played 34 crosses and created 11 chances. Clearly, wing play and crossing has created chances, but it has created no goals in180 minutes of football. Spurs have to find another way to put City under pressure.
Which Man City?
Will it be the slick attacking side that put Swansea to the sword and saw off Bolton comfortably? Or, will Mancini revert to type and play the style he adopted in big games last season? Spurs will prefer a football match to a brawl and the absence of De Jong may help foster a more sporting atmosphere.
In matches against the top sides last season, Mancini usually picked at least 1 defensively minded fullback and at least 3 defensively minded midfielders. Often Milner was the most attacking player selected in the midfield. This allowed Mancini to achieve his stated goal for the season, pick up enough points to finish in the top 4 and move on to the next phase of “the project.” Interestingly, City only won 3 games against their top 4 rivals. One of those, the reverse of this fixture, came courtesy of a fortunate own goal.
Those key games they did win came when Tevez was heavily involved. He often scored and was injured early in the loss to Arsenal, absent against Spurs in May (admittedly they won that match, but it came from an own goal from Crouch’s standing foot) and partnered by the then anonymous Dzeko in the loss to Liverpool. It is unlikely that Tevez will start but his compatriot Aguero will surely be given the chance to continue the blazing start to his Premier League career with another start.
Adam Johnson has only been used sparingly by Mancini, but this could be a good opportunity for the winger to stake a claim for a first team role. If deployed on the right, he could pose a threat to the flamboyant full back Assou-Ekotto. Both being predominantly left footed, Johnson would have the advantage, running at the Cameroonian’s weaker right foot.
Lines of command
Spurs showed against United that they lack a certain tactical cohesion in their current structure. After the first goal, Spurs’ midfield disappeared and the movement of the United front two and midfield pulled the Tottenham back four repeatedly out of position, exposing themselves for the Anderson goal and other chances. A mobile city front three could be similarly dangerous. Silva’s willingness to run with ball (5 successful dribbles this season) could threaten the inexperienced Walker, if he is given the right back berth ahead of former Citizen Corluka.
Spurs will also be keen to get the ball to Gareth Bale on Sunday. They only managed to play passes to the left 20 times (as compared with 86 to the right). Bale was never given space to run so was relatively anonymous against the champions (he made 74 touches but 0 crosses). If the returning Modric can help the Welshman get the best out of the imposing Richards, Spurs will be more likely to take something form the game.
The Only Way Is Up
If Spurs are dominated by the bruising City midfield, Spurs may face the prospect of 0 points from two games. It is vital that Tottenham are not blown away in that part of the pitch. There will be no Palacios or Sandro, but a first start of the season for Huddlestone and Modric could help Spurs to balance the scales. If so, Spurs will be able to create chances and, with a bursting White Hart Lane crowd behind them, could end City’s perfect start.