[Editor’s note: we presently have no information about the status of this weekend’s Premier League matches after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Until we hear otherwise, we are assuming matches will take place as scheduled.]
Three points was all that mattered for Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night when they managed to score two second-half goals against ten man Marseille. Towards the end of the game, Spurs spelled some of their starting XI with perhaps one eye towards the big match of the weekend when they travel north to play Manchester City.
Man City this season look once again like title favorites with summer signing Erling Haaland bursting onto the scene. Many wondered how Pep Guardiola would tinker with his side to incorporate to a natural striker like Haaland, but the inclusion of the Norwegian international has been seamless so far, with Haaland scoring ten goals in just six Premier League matches. City’s prowess and dominance on the ball will not frustrate Spurs however, considering that the north London side have been perhaps the biggest thorn in Pep’s side in recent years. While City have won four of the last five Premier League titles, they have not won at Tottenham since October 2018 when Spurs were still playing their home games at Wembley. Saturday’s match will be at the Etihad, but arguably the best game of the season was played between the two sides in Manchester last season when Harry Kane scored a stoppage-time winner to take all three points.
On Saturday, the two teams will face each other as the last unbeaten teams in the league. It will be quite a test for Spurs and a real challenge for them as their styles are in conflict. City may just be the best on-ball team in the world and Spurs have the firepower to make oppositions pay on the counter. We all know that this season Spurs have been fine with letting their opponents have the ball while using their defense to prevent good chances. Against City, Spurs will certainly have to stay within their shape and make things difficult, but they will also have to make their limited goal-scoring opportunities count.
This is the side that an in-form Heung-min Son simply thrives against. And while the South Korean has yet to open his goal-scoring account this season, there should be plenty of space for him to get into positions to score against a side with which he has a lot of history. In the last five league games against City, Son has contributed three goals and two assists en route to Spurs winning four out of five matches.
With both teams playing in the Champions League, there may be some tired legs in this game. City played on Tuesday and hammered Sevilla, whereas Spurs’ match on Wednesday means they will have one less day of rest ahead of this game. However, because City will dominate the ball and push to to get into Spurs’ compact shape, Tottenham should have legs to make them pay if they are sloppy on the ball.
To get ready for this match, we are bringing back the “Know your Opponent” series by speaking to Cityzen Duck of Bitter and Blue, SB Nation’s Manchester City blog. We asked five questions about City, what they did this summer and what to expect for Saturday. In addition, we returned the favor by answering questions for Spurs’ side. If you are interested in that, refer to the Bitter and Blue blog in the coming days.
RR: While Pep and City are inners of four of the last five Premier League titles along with other domestic trophies during his tenure, it seems the Champions League trophy has evaded him. How imperative is it for Pep and the club to win the UCL? Is it possibly more important than winning the league?
CD: The Champions League is clearly the goal. It is the one trophy that the City Football Group have not gotten their hands on, and it is the reason Pep was brought to Manchester. That being said, this season does not have the feeling of Champions League or bust. Guardiola’s job is not in any kind of jeopardy. As far as importance, the UCL title would certainly supersede winning the league again. Pep has said many times that he wants to win every competition, but I would guess that the club would trade any of their Premier League trophies for the one with the big ears.
RR: City oversaw a number of departures this summer including some young players with huge potential. What was the thinking behind departures like Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Roméo Lavia, Sam Edozie, among others?
CD: Most of the deals for younger players like Lavia and Edozie include buy back clauses. So City have protected themselves against shipping out a future superstar. As for the first-team departures, Pep has said many times that if a player is not happy he will not stand in the way of that player leaving. That being said, valuations need to be met. Such was the case with Bernardo Silva’s flirtation with Barcelona in the most recent transfer window. Jesus, Zinchenko, and Raheem Sterling all left for more playing time and an increased role at their new clubs. This was something that could not be promised to them in Pep’s setup.
RR: City have been such a dynamic side for a number of years due to the talent of the squad, the technical ability and up-tempo style of play that has come in their patented “passing triangles” approach. Outside of the Haaland/Alvarez inclusions, what is different about this City squad in comparison to years prior?
CD: As you’ve said, the increased depth and quality at the striker position is the biggest difference this season over the last two. More than that however, Pep has built a flexibility into his side that has allowed him to be more fluid in his shape. For example, in City’s opener against West Ham, Guardiola employed an inverted full back setup that saw Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo squeeze into the middle of the pitch. This allowed Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne to push up to more of a high eight setup and the shape was more of a 2-5-3. In other games he’s used 3 at the back. In today’s NBA, the best teams employ a type of position-less basketball. In some ways, what Pep is doing at City is very similar.
RR: While the squad is pretty stacked and expectations are once again high, what is a worry for you and City supporters regarding a potential weakness for this season?
CD: Counter attack. City have been vulnerable to it for several seasons now. The match against Aston Villa on the weekend was a perfect example. City dominated possession, as they nearly always do and held the ball 73% of the time. Haaland opened the scoring in the 50th minute, but City had already failed to capitalize on a number of chances. The Sky Blues wood hit the woodwork twice in the match. Then out of a not-so-dangerous looking counter, Leon Bailey hit a marvelous shot from distance that tied the game and stole a point for Villa and two from City.
RR: What is your prediction for this game? How do you see the game playing out? And, which player or which matchup is your x-factor?
CD: Spurs have been a problem recently for City. Heung-Min Son in particular has been marvelous against Pep’s team. I think this will be a tight match, as they have been lately between the two sides. Even though we are still early in the campaign, both sides will be eager to get their neck in front of the other. I think the player to watch will be Haaland. I know. shocking. How Spurs are able to handle the big Norwegian will go a long way towards deciding this one. In the end, I like City in a close one. Final score 3-2.
Well, there you have it. Cityzen Duck sees a 3-2 victory for City. For Spurs supporters, getting a point out of this game will surely make us all happy. However, Tottenham tasted victory in brilliant fashion last season at the Etihad. This feels like the type of game in which Antonio Conte can make magic happen, similar to last season. A result against City would be a huge boost for Spurs before they head to Portugal on Tuesday for their next Champions League group match.
h/t to Cityzen Duck for the time.
Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.