LEAGUE champions Manchester City face a tricky fixture as they continue their pursuit of a third straight Premiership title when Tottenham Hotspur visit their Etihad Stadium today.
Even in these embryonic stages of the new season, great needle is anticipated as these two top-six clubs clash in the match of the weekend. A triumph for either will go nowhere near securing the Premier League title, but would certainly help keep the other contenders in check, particularly Liverpool and Manchester United, who like City, started the season with emphatic victories.
In the case of Spurs’ trip to the north-west of England, there will obviously be added incentive for the Citizens to do well in the late kick-off today.
It was Tottenham who made City eat humble pie in the Champions League last season. The Londoners knocked out the favourites of Europe’s elite club competition on the away goals rule in the quarter-finals and will quietly be plotting a similar hit-and-run plan this weekend.
But Pep Guardiola’s squad will no doubt be bent on exacting a measure of revenge for that Champions League defeat and Tottenham could pay the price of a hammering if they don’t keep their guard up.
City started the season with a 5-0 thrashing of West Ham last Saturday. And despite some catcalls from their chief rivals that they did not play as impressively as the scoreline might have suggested, this is a team that no one wants to play when they are in full flight.
Guardiola’s tactics and formations have been analysed and scrutinised by almost every sector of the game, and if there was a common denominator to emerge from it all, then it is that this team can hurt you from anywhere on the park.
Raheem Sterling hit a hat-trick last Saturday, only to further underscore his quality as an integral component of Guardiola’s immensely talented squad and an ever-improving goal-poacher – a scenario far removed from the days when he arrived from Liverpool as a £49mil winger.
But the British Football Writers’ Football of the Year is not the only character that Spurs will want to keep an eye on.
In the absence of Sergio Aguero, who came off the bench in the second half to score against West Ham, Gabriel Jesus made his presence felt upfront with a goal of his own.
When you factor in the damage that can, and might well, be done by skipper
David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri, who made his Premier League debut at West Ham following his move from Atletico Madrid last month, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs cannot be faulted for fearing the worst in this fixture.
Wanting to make an impact in front of their fans in their first league game at home this season will also drive City.
The Citizens, who have won the Premier League four times in the last eight years and this week avoided a transfer ban by FIFA for breaches relating to international transfers and registration of players, also have the likes of the dynamic Bernardo Silva and fullback-cum-winger Joao Cancelo, a £60mil signing from Juventus earlier this month, waiting to be summoned into action.
Tottenham, of course, have their own artillery and Pochettino will not hesitate to let Harry Kane lose on the home team.
The England captain and marksman scored a brace as they came back from a goal down to beat newly promoted Aston Villa 3-1 last weekend.
Club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele, who joined Tottenham in a £55mil move from Lyon last month, got the equaliser and impressed on his debut.
Some said he was outstanding – and he might need to be again at City today.
These two, along with Christian Eriksen, who has been spoken of in a possible transfer to Real Madrid and also started on the bench before coming on after the break last week, will be expected to take the challenge to Manchester City.
But given City’s dominance in the Premier League, things appear to be slightly stacked against the visitors.
Then again, one can never be sure in these tricky fixtures, even when City do hold an edge by virtue of playing at home.