We’re only seven weeks into the 2016-17 Premier League season and already we’re set to sample a top of the table showdown, as leaders Manchester City make the trip south to face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
So far, the notoriously difficult nature of English football has been straightforward to tame for City’s new manager Pep Guardiola. He’s matched the record of Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea winning his first six league games in charge of a new club, although you sense this showdown will not be as processional as some of their early wins.
Tottenham have made an understatedly strong start to the campaign, after all. Mauricio Pochettino’s men may be coping with some key injuries, although the strength in depth they possess has shone through as of late, with players on the periphery keen to take their chance.
The match is likely to be a big barometer for both sides too. City may have coasted past rivals Manchester United earlier in the season, although in Spurs they’ll find a much more intense and organized foe. Meanwhile, Tottenham’s robust defensive setup face a challenge to contain City’s attacking variety.
It’s an opportunity for each to land a significant mental blow on one of their main title rivals too. If Guardiola can leave White Hart Lane with three points secured, already he’s triumphed at two of the country’s most difficult venues. Spurs’ season, steady but not spectacular so far, can catch fire should they end City’s immaculate record.
Regardless of the outcome, the contest itself should be an enthralling spectacle, with two managers on the sidelines that have brought something refreshing to the Premier League. Here’s a closer look at how it’ll go.
Where to find the game on TV and streaming
Date: Sunday, October 2
Time: 9:15 a.m. (ET) and 6:15 a.m. (PT)
TV/streaming info: Live on NBCSN, Telemundo, NBC Sports App and Sling Blue
The focus of the Premier League audience has been trained on the likes of City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea so far this term, with each side’s respective illustrious manager expected to work wonders. But Spurs have been an overdue model in stability.
Pochettino deserves great credit for that. The Argentine coach didn’t bring in the most spectacular signings during the summer window, especially compared to some of the high-profile business done by the aforementioned clubs. But Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen have adapted well to life in north London.
They’ve had to. Wanyama has been needed to screen in midfield, with injury problems hindering both Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier. Meanwhile, Harry Kane’s own fitness woes have seen Janssen tossed in at the deep end. The injuries have stretched the squad and a midweek trip to CSKA Moscow may leave some players a little jaded for this weekend’s game.
It’s meant something of a tactical reshuffle for Pochettino, although the manager suggested the stricken players, including left-back Danny Rose, will be close to making a return against City. That’s not to say Spurs have had too many problems without some key members of the starting XI, with players like Son Heung-min stepping up.
The South Korean has been the unexpected star of Tottenham’s season so far, netting five goals in Spurs’ last three away games. His dribbling, versatility and ruthless finishing have given the team a lift at a vital point; Son, who was linked with a summer exit, has made himself undroppable at this stage.
The makeup of Tottenham’s midfield will be fascinating for this one, as you suspect the defensive instincts of Dier in this area would be welcome if he was fit. Even so, Spurs have the power and panache in the final third to give City a lot to consider.
Have we witnessed the first small cracks in the City setup since Guardiola took the helm in the last week? Against Swansea City, they struggled against the Welsh side’s high press, although eventually ran out 3-1 winners; similar intensity caused them even more problems in midweek in the Champions League, although they came from behind three times to salvage a 3-3 draw at Celtic.
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a reach, as overall Guardiola has enjoyed a magnificent start to his tenure at the Etihad Stadium. The players have take to his methods tremendously and some of the football showcased has been an aesthetic delight. However, you sense they’ll need to show a little more steel against Spurs.
Indeed, this is likely to be the first time a team goes toe-to-toe with City in the Premier League. United sagged back on to the ropes against their rivals when they met, but Spurs are a pressing side and with the blueprint of Swansea and Celtic in mind, will seek to unsettle the league leaders. It’ll be cute rather than cavalier from the hosts, though.
The visitors will be without some key attacking stars, with Kevin de Bruyne injured and Nolito suspended after his red card against AFC Bournemouth. John Stones, after sitting on the bench in midweek, will surely come back into the XI, while summer signing Leroy Sane could also start his first league game of the campaign.
After the pulsating encounter in Glasgow, City may be a little weary and against a side as energetic and powerful as Tottenham, that’s something that may concern Guardiola. However, the visitors will seek to squeeze the play themselves and exert their quality on the contest from the off. With a midfield trio of Fernandinho, David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan, they’ll see plenty of the ball.
This is another major challenge for Guardiola, his players and this style of football to overcome. Should they take three points from this jaunt to the capital, there’ll be few doubting this City outfit is very much the real deal.
Key Battle – Vincent Janssen vs. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi
Filling the shoes of Kane has been a problem for Tottenham since the Englishman’s rapid rise, although in Janssen, Pochettino finally looks to have discovered a very able deputy indeed.
The Dutch international has impressed so far in Spurs colors. His burly frame, intelligent movement and smart hold-up play has ensured Tottenham still possess a focal point up top, with players like Son benefitting from his presence. All that’s been missing so far for Janssen in the Premier League is a goal; Stones and Nicolas Otamendi will be out to keep him off the scoresheet.
Given Aleksandar Kolarov looked every inch a makeshift centre-back during the midweek clash with Celtic, it would be an enormous surprise if Stones wasn’t recalled here. He and Otamendi have both performed well as a partnership so far, with the former’s composure complemented by the aggressive approach of his defensive partner.
Janssen will make things tough for both players with his unrelenting work-rate and willingness to participate in one-on-one battles. Unsettling the foundation of this City side, as Celtic showed in midweek, can disrupt the irresistible passing patterns they’ve put together for much of Guardiola’s tenure.
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