English Premier League | Sunday 14 February | Etihad Stadium | 18:15
Manchester City host high-flying Tottenham in a cracking contest that will have telling implications in the race for the 2015/16 Premier League title. Spurs are second on the table, level with Arsenal on 48 points, but average a better goal difference. The Sky Blues are a point behind in fourth place, following last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to leaders Leicester who have 53 points. Manuel Pellegrini's side have dominated this fixture in recent seasons, winning eight of their previous 10 meetings. However, Spurs won the reverse tie 4-1 at White Hart Lane and are in better form with six wins on the spin.
Man City 11/20
Manchester City's 3-1 defeat against Leicester has left them fourth in the Premier League table. Pellegrini's future may have been decided before the end of this season but he still has a job to do in order to rally his troops and claim his second league title before parting way for Pep Guardiola to take over. The Sky Blues are six points off leaders Leicester and have lost six league games already this term. In a 38-game Premier League season, that's the most any side has lost and still gone on to win the title.
They haven't won back-to-back league games in well over three months, since victories over Newcastle United and Bournemouth in October. They haven't beaten a side in the top six of the division all season. Remarkably, despite all of that, they do have a chance of reclaiming the title. The Premier League has been so unpredictable, defined by its reducing inequality, that a lower points total than usual will be needed to finish top. But whether City can capitalise on the shifting Premier League landscape is in serious doubt. They weren't just beaten by Leicester City last Saturday – they were hammered, battered into submission by a side who appeared far better prepared for a title race. To make matters worse, City have suffered a fresh injury setback with David Silva the latest player to be sidelined.
Silva hobbled off with a recurrence of an ankle problem towards the end of City’s 3-1 defeat to Leicester. The playmaker joins skipper Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Jesus Navas, Eliaquim Mangala, Samir Nasri and Wilfried Bony on City’s list of enforced absentees. City look a different team without Silva; his absence has previously seen the Sky Blues suffer as a result. Pellegrini will rely on Argentine striker Sergio Aguero to add to his 14-goal tally and fire his team to victory.
This weekend’s trip to Manchester City will, of course, be a stern test, but it should hold few fears for them after the manner in which they demolished City 4-1 at White Hart Lane in September. Under Mauricio Pochettino, whisper it ever so quietly, Tottenham have their best-ever chance of winning their first Premier League title. Their rise has remained largely hidden in the shadows of Leicester City’s own incredible ascent, but with just 13 games remaining, Tottenham are five points behind and more than capable of overtaking them.
There is an inherent pessimism among Tottenham fans; if something can go wrong, it inevitably always does, but in this season of surprises, there is no reason why it can’t be Spurs who find themselves top of the table when the campaign draws to a close on May 15. The genius of Pochettino is that he has built a team that respects the White Hart Lane club’s history and so continues to play with their traditional attacking flair, but he has also added a new resilience and sense of self-belief to his players. This is a Tottenham side that has proved to be extremely difficult to beat this season, largely because of their defence. As it stands, Spurs boast the best defence in the Premier League, having conceded just 19 goals in 25 games. In eight of the last 13 seasons, the team with the best defence has become champions, and at the moment, Tottenham are on course to concede less than the 32 goals Chelsea allowed past them last season when they won the title.
In between the posts, Hugo Lloris continues to make match-winning saves, while in front of him, the Belgian partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen with a choice of Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies on the flanks have erected a defensive barrier that uses their pace, brawn and positional sense to great effect. Dele Alli has drawn admiration, and comparisons with Steven Gerrard for his ability to cover the pitch and score goals, while a strong cast around him, including Mousa Dembele, Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son provide the creative spark. Up front, Harry Kane is a lethal finisher and has scored 14 goals from his last 16 Premier League games.
Verdict: Tottenham (5/2)
Spurs are in top form with six wins on the spin, including a 2-0 victory away to Leicester in the FA Cup. In that run, they’ve scored 17 goals while conceding just three times. City were dreadful against Leicester, showing their defensive frailties. The loss of David Silva only makes matters worse for Pellegrini’s side. Spurs thrashed City 4-1 at White Hart Lane in September and I’m tipping them to do the double at 5/2.