Man City may rely on stars to topple Spurs' collective spirit

Posted Feb 12, 2016 by Tyrrell Meertins
Manchester City’s history against Spurs has been fairly positive in recent years, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men pose a legitimate threat to the hosts on their trip to the Etihad.
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring his third goal during their FA Cup mat...
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring his third goal during their FA Cup match against Watford in Manchester on January 25, 2014
Paul Ellis, AFP/File
Manuel Pellegrini’s men have struggled on the road this season, but their home performances against top half sides have been equally underwhelming. The Chilean will be pleased to welcome back Bacary Sagna and Vincent Kompany to the starting XI, but Fabian Delph’s long-term Achilles injury deprives City of attacking options.
Pellegrini’s attempt to play Raheem Sterling behind Aguero was futile in last week's defeat to Leicester City, which may see Yaya Toure deployed as the no.10. This, however, depends on whether Pellegrini wants additional protection in midfield with Fernando and Fernandinho. But with Jesus Navas and Delph injured, Raheem Sterling and David Silva are the likely options out wide.
Sterling will attempt to dribble down the left to cut onto his stronger foot, whereas Silva will drift from the right to find space between the lines to create chances. Still, Toure won’t be much of a liability in this regard, and will be instructed to apply pressure to Dier, who splits the centre-backs to help Spurs build out the back.
However, Sterling and Silva in wide positions offers a test to Pellegrini’s back-line. Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier were excellent in Spurs 1-0 win over Watford, and the full-backs will be eager to maintain advanced positions, thus forcing the City wingers to track back. This was Spurs’ main attacking outlet last weekend against a narrow Watford side that was eventually breached through a Trippier goal.
Pochettino’s sole major change should see Deli Alli return to the Spurs XI, pushing Christian Eriksen to the left flank and Erik Lamela on the right. Harry Kane can equally pose a threat to the returning Kompany by drifting towards the channel, but the City centre-backs will relish a physical battle with the England international.
Poor performances from Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta should result in Gael Clichy and Sagna’s inclusion in the XI. From an attacking perspective, neither full-back is superior to the men they’d be replacing, but a defensive minded back-line is required here. Fernando’s presence would allow one full-back to push forward into attack – likely Sagna – but it would be surprising if Pellegrini didn’t approach this clash with caution.
Nevertheless, the key to the match could depend on whether City can cope with Spurs’ intense pressing. Meanwhile, Spurs’ attacking quintet can offer a threat on the counter if City push Toure and the full-backs forward. Pochettino’s men will aim to prevent City from moving into their half, but they can also fluster the hosts by pushing Dier deeper as an additional centre-back, while Alli sits alongside Moussa Dembele.
Silva and Sergio Aguero have enjoyed positive outings against Spurs over the years, but where Dier may limit the former’s influence between the lines, the latter will aim to exploit the away side’s high-line. Aguero still appears to be the main man, here, solely based on the amount of space he’ll receive to charge into behind Kevin Wimmer and Toby Alderweireld, along with his ruthless finishing.
"This is our challenge, to try to keep the same intensity in every game," Pochettino said.
"I want them to play like lions - this is what all managers want and expect from their players, to feel and play,"
Furthermore, the contrast between both sides is vivid and pivotal to the outcome of the match. City may once again rely on the individual brilliance of Aguero and Silva, whereas Spurs’ collective pressing, patient possession and quick counters could be decisive.
Spurs doing the double over Pellegrini’s men is a realistic possibility that could end City’s title challenge.