The Big Match

Football: Pep Guardiola wary of deja vu ahead of Spurs clash

Last season, Spurs inflicted Pep Guardiola's first defeat as City manager. Since then, City have beaten Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. A win today would complete a clean sweep against their big-six rivals.
Last season, Spurs inflicted Pep Guardiola's first defeat as City manager. Since then, City have beaten Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. A win today would complete a clean sweep against their big-six rivals.PHOTO: REUTERS

Spurs ended City's unbeaten run last season, but a repeat seems unlikely at Etihad today

Manchester City were unbeaten and had a winning habit in the Premier League. Then they met Tottenham. They lost 0-2.

Chelsea, then the league leaders, had not dropped a point for more than three months in a record-breaking run of victories. Then they met Tottenham. They lost 0-2.

Those scenarios may qualify as wishful thinking for those who either support Spurs or who want a competitive title race.

Both actually happened last season. Mauricio Pochettino inflicted Pep Guardiola's first defeat as City manager. Spurs later ended Chelsea's 13-game winning run with an identical result.

So when Pochettino said that he prefers to play big teams, perhaps it was not just psychology.

Spurs have already beaten the European champions, Real Madrid; now the challenge is to beat the team many think is the best on the continent. After all, they took four points against City last season.

  • 6% 

     
    Tottenham's win rate (1 in 17) in away games against big-six opponents in the Premier League since Mauricio Pochettino took charge in 2014. But that solitary triumph was at the Etihad in a 2-1 win over Manchester City in February last year.

So far, so good. Now for the problems. Spurs have lost three of their last four away league games. They were decidedly fortunate to draw at the Etihad Stadium last season, scoring twice from two shots on target. City now have the excellent Ederson in goal, not Claudio Bravo. Dele Alli, who scored home and away against City last season, is out of form.

Spurs have claimed many a scalp at home but only have one victory in 17 attempts away at big-six opponents. It was at City, but Pochettino has also lost 0-6 at the Etihad.

And whereas Spurs were able to overwhelm City with the speed of their pressing game last season, Guardiola's side are both better on the ball and faster now. It helped that he signed Tottenham's resident 100m runner, Kyle Walker.

Pochettino's other issue is tactical. With two of his three best centre-backs, Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez, injured and suspended, he cannot deploy the 3-4-2-1 formation he used at the Etihad in January.

Of his two best holding midfielders, Victor Wanyama is not match-fit and Eric Dier will be required at centre-back.

And if high-class defensive midfielders are needed against any team, it is City. Their creative duo, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, have identical statistics this season, each with five Premier League goals and eight assists.

City have a record 15 straight wins and, after the narrowness of four that all finished 2-1, Wednesday's 4-0 rout of Swansea suggested that they could run riot again.

They have guarded against complacency and, while Guardiola seemed guilty of underestimating Spurs' other talents when he dismissively branded them "the Harry Kane team" in October, the striker actually missed Tottenham's win over City last season.

But things have changed since then. City have beaten Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Victory today would complete a clean sweep.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2017, with the headline 'Guardiola wary of Deja vu'. Print Edition | Subscribe