The Big Match

Little to choose between City & Spurs

Free-scoring leaders need to be on guard as unbeaten Londoners are no slouches up front

A rivalry is renewed. Not just between Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola, who faced off six times in Catalonia as managers of Spanish La Liga clubs Espanyol and Barcelona respectively, but between English Premier League sides whose recent meetings revealed much about their respective failings.

For the first two seasons of Manuel Pellegrini's reign, Manchester City beat Tottenham home and away, scoring 16 goals and illustrating the gulf between Spurs and the league contenders.

Last year, the Londoners showed the giant strides they had made by beating City home and away. Pellegrini's team conceded six goals. They looked old, left behind by the pressing revolution Pochettino had implemented.

Now they reconvene, but with differences disappearing.

Tottenham's approach is unchanged but now they are joined in the top three teams, according to running statistics, by Guardiola's high-speed City. They are the only two unbeaten teams in the division, meaning either Spurs' undefeated run or City's 100 per cent league start will end tomorrow.

They have the best defence and the best attack respectively. City are averaging three goals a game. Spurs have conceded only three in total.

Perhaps irresistible object - and Tottenham have found Sergio Aguero unstoppable in the past - will meet an immovable force. Yet perhaps this game will be decided at the other end of the pitch.

Guardiola's brand of football is both ambitious and open. City sometimes commit so many men forward they leave only the two central defenders back. They can be caught on the counter-attack.

They also proved susceptible to pressure in Wednesday night's 3-3 draw against Celtic in the Champions League, which ended their 10- match winning run. The Scottish champions became the first team to lead against Guardiola's side.

Pochettino, another advocate of a fast start, surely took note. City proved susceptible to set pieces when they lost 1-4 at White Hart Lane 12 months ago. They face trial by dead balls again.

While they have already won at Old Trafford, this should be their severest examination of any kind to date.

Guardiola may consider caution. He could introduce Fernando alongside Fernandinho as a second defensive midfielder to combat Spurs' power.

If not, with Nolito suspended and Kevin de Bruyne injured, he has to find another attacking midfielder. Perhaps Leroy Sane, the most expensive German footballer ever, will be granted a first Premier League start on one wing.

Pochettino should have an abundance of attacking midfielders at his disposal.

Tottenham beat CSKA Moscow in Russia on Tuesday night without five injured players. Most should be back. The exception is striker Harry Kane, a scourge of City last season.

Yet, his absence could allow Pochettino to field a more fluid forward line, perhaps with Son Heung Min leading the line.

It would be an unconventional approach, but unorthodox thinking may be the key to beating Guardiola's City. Along with pace, pressing and counter-attacking, but they are already specialities of Spurs.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'Little to choose between City & Spurs'. Print Edition | Subscribe