Tottenham are the next team to brace themselves for the visit of Manchester City. Guardiola’s side have been in irresistible form, and the manager lauded last Tuesday’s Champions League victory over Shakhtar as his side’s “best display” since he joined the club. Manchester City remain unbeaten in the league and have scored an average of almost three goals per game.
Spurs’ lack of squad depth has been magnified by a series of injuries to key players, yet the North Londoners have quietly navigated an awkward run of fixtures to accrue points without performing at their best. Similar resilience and an improved performance would be required to claim a result from Monday’s contest.
Some of Pochettino’s usual first-choice selections were rotated out of the starting XI against West Ham, but their line-up in the Champions League gave a clearer picture of his favoured line-up. Dele Alli is unlikely to start but is close to returning to the side, with Vertonghen now the sole long-term absentee. The Belgian’s continued absence is a significant loss to the team and means that Spurs are unlikely to revert to a five-man defence any time soon. Wanyama and Rose are also doubts having sustained minor strains in the last two weeks.
Tottenham’s central players would need to be at their best to resist the Manchester City press. A similarly aggressive press allowed Liverpool to profit from hesitant Tottenham possession in their only previous home defeat of the season. Eric Dier, Moussa Dembele and both full-backs were among the guilty parties on that day, and the Man City attack are unlikely to spurn as many opportunities as Liverpool.
Injuries have virtually guaranteed minutes for central pair Dier and Dembele so far, though reservations surrounding the effectiveness of their partnership in the long-run are valid. Eric Dier’s defensive traits are his main strength, and while Moussa Dembele is a talented footballer with the ball at his feet, his distribution has lacked speed and incision of late. Going forward, a different pairing may give the midfield greater dynamism and mobility, allowing them to dictate a faster tempo to their play. This could account for some of the reason behind Tottenham’s struggle to create chances at their usual volume this season.
Pochettino would hope that Erik Lamela’s directness can continue to make an impression from the bench. The Tottenham manager is likely to field an additional deep-lying midfield player to combat Man City’s creative midfielders, which would mean that despite scoring his 4th goal of the season against West Ham, it is unlikely that the attacking midfielder will retain his place in the side tomorrow. The mobility and composure of Harry Winks is likely to be utilised in combination with conservative main-stays Dier and Dembele. Wink’s inclusion should improve Spurs chances of pinching possession back and tightening the midfield area.
Spurs must also be wary of not dropping too deep without a plan to spring forward. A lack of attacking ambition may isolate Kane and Moura and enable City to push further into Tottenham territory. Creative talisman Christian Eriksen, now at full fitness, should help to avoid this and triggered an improved attacking effort, despite the result, against PSV in mid-week. In the absence of Eriksen and Alli, Spurs build-up phase has been a little one-dimensional, mostly culminating in crosses from wide areas, so the Dane’s ability to link midfield to attack should provide greater threat centrally.
Predicted line-up: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies, Dier, Winks, Dembele, Eriksen, Moura, Kane.
The Manchester City coach is unlikely to scale-down his attacking system as he did in their last away game at Liverpool. Guardiola’s side got the better of Tottenham on both occasions last season and returns to Wembley this year with greater depth, and a fully fit Kevin de Bruyne should embolden the Spaniard. The Belgian featured for just over an hour in mid-week and could be in line to start. Kyle Walker should also be available to start the game having shaken off a knock which meant he sat out last weekend’s game.
Tactically, Man City are unlikely to exhibit anything we haven’t seen before from them. Their high press would look to overload the central areas and gradually pin Spurs back. Mendy at left back and Walker or Stones at right-back will drift centrally in possession to expose passing lanes to the flanks or pockets of space in front of the penalty area for David Silva, Bernardo Silva or de Bruyne to exploit.
Mahrez, Sterling, Sane and occasionally Bernardo Silva compete for a place on either of City’s wings, and Guardiola rotates his pairing fairly readily. The pace of Guardiola’s wingers adds an extra dimension to their attack by punishing teams who commit too many players ahead of the play by countering at speed. Newly recruited Mahrez was preferred to Sane with Sterling switched to left wing in their previous game against a top-six side at Liverpool, which was perhaps a measure to guard against advances from Liverpool’s full-backs and may be mimicked in this contest. The same duo played in a near full-strength Man City line-up in Ukraine during the week.
Of course, Tottenham does possess the creative and attacking players to have some success at playing through the Man City press, especially if Spurs can manoeuvre the ball to Moura or Trippier on the right. As a result, Guardiola may ensure that his full backs don’t overcommit to their attacking phase, particularly on Mendy’s left-side.
Predicted line-up: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Mendy, Fernandinho, D. Silva, de Bruyne, Mahrez, Sterling, Aguero
Watch out for: The Wembley pitch isn’t in the best condition after recent NFL games, which may suit Tottenham’s efforts to disrupt Man City’s passing.
Prediction: Tottenham 1 – 2 Manchester City
The technical quality in the Manchester City midfield should be able to create enough opportunities to win the game for the visitors, particularly if they can effectively catch Spurs in possession. Tottenham’s compact defensive block should keep the game within reach of mounting a comeback, and the return of Eriksen will increase their threat from open play and set pieces.