Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur: Why stuttering Spurs need another Etihad upset to revive flagging Premier League season
When Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Manchester City in the Premier League last season they turned the form book on its head with a thrilling 3-2 victory.
It ended a run of three consecutive top-flight defeats and kick-started their campaign, which would ultimately see Spurs pip Arsenal to Champions League qualification.
For City, it was a first defeat in 14 matches and jolted them into an unbeaten run that propelled them to a fourth Premier League title in five years.
Tottenham will be underdogs when they meet again at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday night, and how they could do with causing another upset.
Sunday’s home defeat to north London rivals Arsenal not only wounded their pride but also their prospects of finishing in the top four.
It was a fifth loss from their last nine Premier League fixtures, a run which has left Spurs off the pace in the race for Champions League qualification.
Another reverse against City would leave them five points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester United, having played two games extra.
They could be sixth by the time they take the field at Fulham on Monday and seventh at full-time at Craven Cottage if they lost again.
Looming over Tottenham’s malaise is a cloud of uncertainty regarding the club’s ownership and the future of manager Antonio Conte.
Spurs have emerged as a target for Qatari cash, amid renewed speculation that owners Enic would be open to a sale.
Conte, meanwhile, will be out of contract in the summer and has been less than effusive in his comments about staying beyond then.
This week he suggested club directors ought to face the media and take some of the heat directed at managers.
City manager Pep Guardiola, by contrast, has committed his future to the club, but he too is looking to rediscover a winning formula.
Their title defence suffered another setback when they conceded two late goals in a controversial loss at neighbours Manchester United on Saturday.
It condemned them to back-to-back defeats for the first time since February 2020. They haven’t been beaten three times in a row since April 2018.
“It’s past,” said Guardiola. “We are not going to change anything now, so the focus is Tottenham. “We have to improve our game, control what we can control. This is what big teams have to do.
“Our fluidity has not been as good as usual. Sometimes, to make chances you need to make a good build-up, put the ball inside to open and spread the defensive lines and we struggled in the last two games.”
City’s stumble has coincided with a slowdown in Erling Haaland’s incredible strike rate. Having scored 20 goals in his first 12 competitive games, he has netted seven in his last 11.
It has led to Guardiola fielding questions on whether Haaland’s introduction this season has blunted some elements of the team’s usually fluid attacking play.
“We have played really good with him, so it is not about that,” he said. “To play better, to create more chances, is to provide more balls for him or the other strikers.”
City’s attack might have more easily absorbed Harry Kane if they had persuaded Tottenham to sell their captain 18 months ago.
Instead Kane stayed put and is one goal shy of cementing club legend status by equalling Jimmy Greaves’s all-time scoring record.
Spurs were the only team to beat City home and away in the league last term, and have a good recent record at the Etihad, losing just one of their last four visits.
Whoever prevails and gives their season a boost, as this fixture was rearranged following the Queen’s passing, they meet again in less than three weeks’ time.