Manchester City’s incredible season has suddenly juddered to a halt, leaving them gripped by an agonising sense of anti-climax, and the last thing they need in the wake of their aborted Premier League title party and sombre Champions League exit is a fixture where their favouritism would be questionable in any case.
Liverpool and Manchester United, like a couple of alpha wolves from rival packs, teamed up over the space of six days to bring this seemingly elusive gazelle-like team to its knees. Now the Sky Blues should expect few favours from a Tottenham side who can smell blood and stands to gain plenty from sinking their teeth into the wounded remains.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men have already pounced on Chelsea at their most vulnerable, finally laying to rest their Stamford Bridge hoodoo after 28 years, and they would see victory in this game as another feather in their cap, sending them into next weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against United holding the same psychological trump card.
The actual significance of a win over champions-in-waiting during April is debatable, but the motivation of landing the scalp of a team on course to break a handful Premier League records remains a powerful one. So long as Tottenham approach this game as a pointer to the future, we can safely expect the usual intensity, if not more.
In a week when Spurs set an amusing precedent by appealing the award of a goal that didn’t initially go to Harry Kane, it would be naive to think they wouldn’t revel in the potential leverage that can be gained by taking maximum points here, ignoring all of the mitigating factors that City could call upon in their defence.
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It’s one thing playing away from home against a well-drilled high-tempo team backed by 75,000 fans when you come into the game on the back of a Champions League exit, but the advantage for Spurs is more than just emotional. Not only do they have an extra seven days in their legs this week, but the same would have applied seven days ago as well.
Consider everything that City have been through over the past fortnight and compare it to a routine 90 minutes at Stoke. Of course, the visitors retain the ability to control large passages of play and can make life extremely uncomfortable in spells when the impetus is with them, but the last two matches perfectly illustrate the fine lines they tread.
The runaway leaders were sensational in the opening 45 minutes against United and Liverpool, asserting control and inducing a level of fear that neither opponent has probably ever encountered before. But it's unsustainable when minds are tired and so delicate is the process, the magic can evaporate at the first hint of adversity.
With Fernandinho suspended, City are liable to weaker at both ends of the pitch. Not only will they miss his penetrative vertical passing from deep but their ability to stop counter attacks at source will be vastly reduced. He might not be City's best player, but right now he's arguably their most difficult to replace.
Tottenham head into this 14 unbeaten since they were humbled in the reverse fixture at the Etihad just before Christmas. They've collected 36 points from the last available 42 - including 10 from a possible 12 against the rest of the top six - and posting almost identical shot data to City along the way. At Wembley, this shouldn't be each of two.
Tottenham to beat Man City at 17/10