Any lingering dreams of optimism were sufficiently sizzled out on Sunday, as Tottenham Hotspur followed this season’s script in a lifeless North London Derby defeat. There was no momentous win to springboard this team in the right direction or pushback on Arsenal’s title chase, and there was not even a moral victory to carry forward. Instead, it was yet another confirmation of where things truly stand.
Now the schedule gets even more sinister, with two contests against Manchester City over the next couple weeks. While the reigning back-to-back champions are lagging behind right now, this is still the league’s most talented and dangerous roster. With the way Spurs have been sliding lately, this stretch could end up being what breaks this season.
Of course, City is the one giant that Tottenham has somehow fared well against. Two wins last year make it 4-1-1 in the league over the past three seasons, which is both comical and unsustainable. Spurs look to be on the cusp of a collapse, but even a win on Thursday comes with a sour note, as City’s chase of Arsenal would only get tougher.
Manchester City (t-2nd, 39pts) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (5th, 33pts)
Date: Thursday, January 19
Time: 3:00 pm ET, 8:00 pm UK
Location: Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
TV: Peacock Premium (USA), Sky Sports Main Event (UK)
City has more goals than Arsenal and a better xGD, but somehow finds itself off the top of the table at the halfway point. Every time the team gets hot, a bad result against Villa or Brentford or Everton seems to halt the momentum. Like Tottenham, the home side is coming off a derby defeat this weekend, with Manchester United now looking like a real threat.
Talent typically wins out, however, and even with the current gap in the table, City has a good shot at making it five titles in six years. Spurs have found a way to handle a litany of attacking barrages in this fixture, but have not yet faced Erling Haaland. While Pep Guardiola may be ready to throw in the towel, do not expect the rest of his roster to do so.
Spurs last traveled to the Etihad a year ago in what turned out to be another instant classic. Harry Kane posted one of his best performances ever, and as he remains on the cusp of passing Jimmy Greaves, this seems like the perfect opponent for him to cement his legacy against. Tottenham will certainly need a classic Kane performance, as the rest of the attack was non-existent on Sunday.
Kane was not without blame, but just about everyone on the roster was at fault – which has been the case in many matches this season. The one that stings the most has to be Hugo Lloris, whose time in North London has to be rapidly expiring. Individual mistakes have plagued this team all season, but the longtime captain is rapidly fading the most dramatically. Against City, the margin for error is basically zero, and another backbreaking mistake would really ratchet up the fire.
The more tangible move for Antonio Conte is fixing the midfield, which at this point is a clear weakness that can no longer be accepted. Spurs are being overrun by every midfield three, and while the 5-3-2 has not almost been effective, it is going to work better than the obvious limitations of the 3-4-3. The personnel is not amazing, but there is no way Tottenham is going to find success against teams like City or Arsenal with the current two-man midfield.