Tottenham head up to Manchester this weekend with the odds stacked against them, if history is anything to go by.
For one thing, Manchester City have not lost this season, and have been unbeaten at home for the last 34 league games at the Etihad Stadium. Tottenham have also won their last three away games in the league, and it is not since 1989 that they won four on the road in a row.
Then again, it was also not since 1989 that the North Londoners has returned from Old Trafford with three league points. But this trip north is being made without Moussa Dembele, whilst Sandro is battling to be fit. It is the Belgian whose absence will be particularly missed, as he has been pivotal during Tottenham’s start to the season. His absence has coincided with defeats to Chelsea, Wigan and Norwich in the Capital One Cup.
If there was ever a good time to face City, it might be now. Their elimination from the Champions League was practically confirmed this week when they laboured to a 2-2 draw at home to Ajax. Roberto Mancini’s side have not been spectacular this season, but they have got enough points domestically to keep themselves in the title hunt.
This match will see Mancini’s men push forward and press Tottenham high up the pitch, as is the way he sets them up. Andre Villas Boas likes his own teams to press high, but he may take the pragmatic view that sitting back a little more than usual will benefit William Gallas given his lack of pace, and allow his side to counter attack.
City have looked weaker in central midfield this season than last. Where there was a Nigel de Jong shaped shield which prevented teams passing through Mancini’s men last year, now there is Javi Garcia, or Gareth Barry, who do not provide the same defensive cover. With Dembele out, Spurs will look to get the ball out wide to Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon quickly. Their pace should stretch City and cause them problems on the break. City’s defence has been weak all season.
Spurs’ defence has hardly been much better themselves, but with Sandro possibly back in the fold this weekend they can match City’s energy in midfield, and they may be able to resist some of the attacking pressure from the champions. If they can do that, with the potency of either former City man Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe, Tottenham have the pace, skill and goal threat in the final third to pull off a win and throw the champions into further disarray.