LONDON • The international break is over, the Premier League is back, and so are the mind games when it involves a big clash between two high-profile managers.
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho suggested yesterday Manchester City put pressure on England boss Gareth Southgate to release Raheem Sterling from international duty this week so that the forward could prepare for today's Premier League clash in London.
Sterling and Liverpool's Jordan Henderson missed England's Nations League dead rubber with Iceland on Wednesday, with Southgate saying both suffered injuries.
Mourinho, however, had none of it. He said at his pre-match press conference yesterday: "I have read that Gareth Southgate has said some football club managers put pressure on their players not to play for the national team.
"Because of that, sometimes Gareth feels the needs to call some of the club managers to cool down the emotions. I would like him to say which are the coaches that put pressure on their players, and which are the coaches he calls.
"We all know Raheem Sterling is going to play tomorrow. When Eric Dier left the national team injured in the previous month, he didn't play two matches for Tottenham. He needed a couple of weeks to recover but I know Raheem is going to play tomorrow.
"These are the little details I think Gareth should explain to us all."
His side's title credentials face a thorough test when they host Pep Guardiola's City today, and he would also prefer to have well-rested players.
Spurs are just a point behind leaders Leicester (18) and are unbeaten in seven league games, raising hope they could win the title for the first time in 60 years.
Mourinho, however, also played down the significance of today's big clash.
"The result of the game will not change anything, only three points more or less," said the Portuguese on the day of one-year anniversary at Tottenham.
He confirmed that Matt Doherty is out due to coronavirus, while Erik Lamela is in the final stages of recovery following a foot injury.
While Spurs are soaring, City are languishing in 10th, six points off the top but with a game in hand.
A return of just 12 points from their opening seven games is by far their lowest since Guardiola arrived in Manchester five years ago.
Yet, after a difficult start caused by the lack of a pre-season, injuries and Covid cases, the trip today will also be an indicator as to whether City have turned the corner.
They are unbeaten in nine games in all competitions, but have struggled for goals, scoring just once in each of their last five league games.
But Guardiola, who penned a two-year contract extension on Thursday, could have both strikers, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero, to choose from for the first time this season.
At his pre-match press conference yesterday, the questions were mostly about his new deal.
The City boss said: "I spoke a lot with director of football Txiki (Begiristain), (chairman) Khaldoon Al Mubarak and analyse what we can do. They are the reason I am here. They gave me a lot.
"But I'm not thinking much right now about titles. We are thinking week by week to do a good job."
He added that Fernandinho is unfit today as he has "something in his stomach", while Nathan Ake will be out after injuring his hamstring on international duty with the Netherlands.