Every Premier League club so far has tried and failed. Only Spurs and Newcastle remain of the sides yet to have an attempt. Everton came closest; a 1–1 draw way back in August, after Kyle Walker had been removed from the action before half-time for two yellow cards.
A draw, the one blemish on Manchester City’s otherwise perfect title challenge. The smallest dimple on the breastplate of an iron giant. One that’s stampeding over landscapes, brushing aside all-comers, on its way to victory.
Any idea that the Guardiola juggernaut was losing momentum, after four successive single-goal wins, was given short shrift by City and their coach on Wednesday night, as they hammered bottom of the table Swansea. David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero, all in dazzling form
‘I’ve never seen a team play like this’, gushed Jonathan Pearce in his post-match with Pep. The Spanish coach sheepishly offered his thankyous while the rest of us struggled to disagree. City look unstoppable.
Can they be beaten?
‘If it bleeds, we can kill it.’
Invaluable life lessons from Arnie’s Alan “Dutch” Schaefer in Predator. And, much like the supposed immortality of everyone’s favourite dreadlocked extraterrestrial, City have their weaknesses. If they can ship goals against West Brom and Stoke, they can lose a game.
Danny Murphy admitted as much on MOTD. There are clear defensive frailties, we saw them against United, when Rashford suddenly found himself in the box with a generous amount of space to shoot. Fabian Delph and Nicolás Otamendi both showed they have potential for self-destruction.
The problem is how you impose yourself on City. How do you but the brakes on a force that’s hell-bent on steamrolling you into the dirt. Like vintage 2011 Barça, a suspect backline is only half the story when the whole side is a highly developed pressing machine. In a sense, the entire team is defending. It’s all very well identifying Fabian Delph as a possible Achilles’ heel; being in a position to exploit it is another matter.
Spurs’ best chance
Mauricio Pochettino‘s recent record against City is as good as anyone’s. Ten points from the last four meetings, including a win and a come-from-behind draw in 2016/17.
In fact, it was Spurs who ended the Manchester club’s winning streak last October. The Spaniard posted a meager six victories on the bounce before they came up against a rampant, Kane-less Tottenham. Pochettino provided the blueprint for how to beat City, when it looked like Pep had English football cracked in his first month in charge. You’re welcome, everyone.
Man City have evolved considerably since then, so going toe-to-toe with them is a dangerous strategy. Indeed, among Spurs’ best performances this season have been the two away games against Real Madrid and Dortmund in the Champions League. Particularly at the Bernabeu, ties in which they were set up to counterattack. Soak up pressure, concede the bulk of possession and try and hit them when it’s turned over.
City are effectively a heavyweight continental side now, in the same wheelhouse as Real, so the thinking might be to treat it like a tough away fixture in Europe. Aggressive, tight at the back, try and create a handful of clear-cut chances on the break. In his planning, the Spurs boss will be fully aware that a loss would see them fall 21 points behind their ‘rivals’. A point would theoretically keep the North Londoners in touch.