Playing the defending Premier League champions is always a tall task, but doing it without a central midfielder make it nearly impossible hill to climb. That means all eyes are on Sandro, who may or may not play, and could give Spurs a chance against Manchester City on Sunday with Moussa Dembele and Scott Parker already ruled out.
Without Sandro, Andre Villas-Boas will be forced to choose from Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, Tom Carroll and an out-of-position Gylfi Sigurdsson in the center of the park. While all are fine players, they are limited and putting two of them in the middle is the equivalent of saying to City, "come on, boys, have your way with us."
If the Brazilian can go, though, Spurs have a chance. Sandro has earned plaudits for his play this season and he's been even better than people have let on. Dembele's fine play to start the season was due in large part to Sandro, who was able to cover many of Dembele's positional mistakes as the Belgian adjusts to a new, deeper position. His passing has gotten better as well, giving Spurs someone who is still a defensive midfielder, but finally a well-rounded one.
The rest of the options, well, they are not quite as well-rounded. That means it is Sandro or bust against Yaya Toure and the Manchester City midfield.
Luckily for Spurs, they have less to worry about at the back with this year's City team than last year's. The Citizens still have Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko, but they aren't finding the net like they did a season ago. They have scored just 18 goals through 10 games, which is a respectable number and good for fifth in the league -- ahead of Spurs, in fact -- but they scored 36 at this point last year. Even if the attack isn't a problem, it has certainly fallen off.
That is good news for a Tottenham defense that is still banged up. Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are still out with long-term injuries, which means Jan Vertonghen will be back at left back and William Gallas will be in the middle. But Steven Caulker will be the man to keep an eye on. The youngster has played fantastic so far this season, but he's taken on more of a leadership role in the center of late and this will be his first major test since doing so. With so many injuries, more has been asked of the Tottenham defenders, Caulker included, which makes the decreased production of the Citizens' attack a godsend.
But for all of the talk about Sandro (most important) and the defense (hugely important), all eyes will still be on the Tottenham strikers. Emmanuel Adebayor is fit and willing to play, making him a candidate to finally start a match. That it happens to be against his old team will give him some extra motivation, while Spurs can't wait to see this mythical "hold up play", but that won't necessarily move Jermain Defoe to the bench.
Villas-Boas played Adebayor and Defoe together in Europa League action and may do so again against City. Simply put, Clint Dempsey hasn't been good and neither has Sigurdsson, forcing Villas-Boas to consider leaving his preferred lone striker system. That would force Defoe to drop deeper, which isn't ideal, but there isn't an ideal option for Tottenham right now.
Still, it will all come back to Sandro. No Sandro, no chance. Yes Sandro, well, it's tough, but Spurs have a shot.