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Will Tidey - Simmering Spurs and City rivalry set to ignite
Manchester City and Tottenham will square up tonight in a clash with all the ingredients to be a classic.
For once, the occasion justifies the hype. Not since Ricky Villa danced through the City defence in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay has a meeting of these two teams provoked so much interest. So high are the stakes that fireworks are practically guaranteed at Eastlands.
Tottenham can all but hear the Champions League theme. A point would keep Harry Redknapp's mercurial outfit in the driving seat, and a win would seal the deal. Even third is not beyond Spurs if they win tonight, enough to send Arsenal fans cowering into the dark, soulless, concrete recesses of the Emirates.
Redknapp's team have consistently entertained this campaign, propelled by the goals of Jermain Defoe and with the likes of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale charting new territories in form. Bale, in particular, has been fully vindicated by his recent performances and will be in high demand this summer.
As ever for Spurs fans, it's not all been a bed of (Danny) Roses. Defeat against Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final, and league losses to Wolves (twice) and Stoke will have been hard to take.
But this Tottenham squad is more robust than the Spurs of old. After the disappointment at Wembley, Redknapp's men beat Arsenal and Chelsea in successive games and maintained their push for a spot in the Big Cup. Bouncebackability at the Lane, who'd have thought it?
Standing in their way is the club to whom money is no longer an issue, who stand accused of being nothing more than a collection of highly-paid mercenaries on a crusade to de-throne the 'Big Four'. No longer can Manchester City fans play the part of hapless underdogs in the shadow of their corporate-savvy neighbours United.
Like them or loathe them, City have arrived. And anything less than Champions League football next season will be deemed a failure - not least because City may struggle to attract the big names they're courting without it.
Roberto Mancini's head is surely on the block. The club who dispensed with Mark Hughes so flippantly are clearly not playing the long game. They want the Premier League title and they want it yesterday.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Ronaldinho. These are the kind of names on the City hitlist, but how many superstars would sacrifice the Big Cup for an extra few quid?
As for Tottenham and their romantic army of long-suffering fans, the Champions League offers genuine hope of a new era of success. The hope that one day talk of the 1960-61 double-winning side will be resigned to the archives.
Tonight's game is therefore bigger than most. And the stakes are even higher after Redknapp attacked City's bullying tactics over the transfer of Craig Bellamy from West Ham - prompting City to threaten legal action.
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