Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur go head-to-head this weekend with both clubs aware that a defeat would be a huge blow to their chances of lifting the Premier League title this season (4.15pm Sunday, Sky Sports 1).
Man City head into this clash on the back of a hugely disappointing 3-1 defeat at home to Leicester City last time out, when Manuel Pellegrini’s side were second best throughout. A win would have seen City climb to the summit of the standings. Instead, they now find themselves down in fourth place, six points behind the Foxes at the top and only six ahead of Manchester United, who have not given up on finishing in a Champions League spot this year.
A vast improvement will therefore be needed if City are to pick up all three points on Sunday afternoon. The two-time Premier League champions have looked rather shaky at the back this term, with the loss of captain Vincent Kompany to injury costing them dearly. Kompany may make his long-awaited return in this match. 26 goals conceded in 25 matches may not sound like a particularly bad record, but City possess a worse defensive record than title rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, as well as Southampton and Manchester United. Centre-halves Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis have both made costly errors at times, with City’s backline breached on five occasions in their last three encounters.
At the other end, there is huge pressure on Sergio Aguero to deliver the goals to sustain a championship bid. The Argentina international has found the back of the net seven times in his last five outings in all competitions. With Wilfried Bony injured and Kelechi Iheanacho just 19 years old, Aguero will need to continue delivering the goods between now and the end of the campaign.
Tottenham’s 1-0 win over Watford last Saturday moved them into second place with just 13 matches remaining. Unlike their upcoming opponents, Mauricio Pochettino’s side have been reliable and defensively solid this term, with only three defeats and 19 goals conceded – the best record in the division – to their name. Only City, Everton and Leicester have scored more often than Spurs, meanwhile, with Harry Kane (pictured) among the division’s highest scorers.
The biggest question mark surrounding Tottenham is whether they are able to continue playing such high-energy, hard-pressing football as the season wears on. The lack of back-up options means that an injury to Kane could be pivotal, furthermore, but Pochettino will be more and more confident of making history this term if Tottenham are able to remain in touch at the top in the coming weeks.
Pellegrini has a number of injury concerns ahead of what is arguably the biggest game of Man City’s campaign so far. Eliaquim Mangala (hamstring), Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Jesus Navas (hamstring), Samir Nasri (hamstring) and Bony (calf) are all definitely out, while David Silva supposedly has a 50 percent chance of recovering from an ankle knock in time. Injury-prone Kompany is likely to make his return after suffering a calf injury.
Pochettino has far fewer problems than his counterpart, with Jan Vertonghen and Clinton N’Jie (both knee) the only Tottenham absentees. Kevin Wimmer is likely to keep his place alongside Toby Alderweireld in the heart of the back four – although Eric Dier could also move back from midfield – while full-backs Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies will both expect to be included in the starting XI again after impressive showings last weekend.
Man City’s inconsistency – brilliant performances one week and mediocre ones the next – makes this is a difficult game to predict. The pressure is on the hosts more than the visitors, but it is unclear whether that will suit City, who could rise to the occasion, or Tottenham, who could benefit from any anxiety in their opponents’ display. Overall, a draw looks the best bet, with goals at both ends to be expected.