Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur: Bigger Than the Champions League Final

Spurs travel to the Eastlands tomorrow to take on the financial might of Manchester City in a match that promises to be one of the highlights of the season, and is almost certainly more important than the Champions League Final for a number of reasons.

When the two teams met last December it was Spurs who triumphed after a brace from Niko Krancjar and a neat finish from Jermaine Defoe gave the White Hart Lane outfit full points. The 3-0 defeat signalled the end of Mark Hughes' time in charge at City, and he was soon replaced by Italian schemer and fashionable scarf wearer Roberto Mancini.

The former Inter Milan boss has continued the early good work set in motion by Hughes and, now, as expected, City stand on the brink of Champions League qualification.

Only Harry Redknapp's over achieving Tottenham team stand in their way of a potential £60 million, European and Premier League domination.

For those of you who think that will hardly be the case think again.

In the space of just 24 months Manchester City have spent something in the region of £200 million and trebled their wage bill. That has guaranteed them a challenge at the top four, should they progress one further then they will consolidate their position and spend again.

This game represents a turning point in many futures, for not only Tottenham or City, but for the other challenging teams in the league.

Victory for Spurs will push City's master plan back a year or two, while the money they could gain should take them further ahead of rivals Everton, Aston Villa, and maybe even Liverpool.

Champions League qualification for Manchester City would almost certainly see them sign better players and it is conceivable that they would surpass Arsenal and become viable title challengers with Chelsea and Manchester United.

It is a game with many destiny's on the line, but back to the match.

Both teams have goalkeeping problems.

Shay Given is out with a dislocated shoulder, which will see the Donegalman return to action next September or October. Huerelho Gomes damaged his groin, with only one minute remaining in the 1-0 win over Bolton at the weekend, and is a major doubt for the clash.

It means that both sides could potentially have reserve team goalkeepers between the posts in the biggest match either club has had in years. City's problems saw them bring in former Spurs 'keeper Martin Fulop on loan from Sunderland after they exploited a loop hole in the FA's rules governing goalkeepers, while Tottenham will probably have to make do with young Ben Alnwick.

The ex-Sunderland shotstopper joined the Lilywhites in January 2007 and has yet to make his first team debut at Spurs.

At the back both teams are likely to be without influential defenders. Jolean Lescott is out with a hamstring injury while Spurs will be without Vedran Corluka, long term absentee Johnathan Woodgate, and most probably Ledley King.

One of the best defenders in the league, King suffers from acute knee problems and can only play every six days. Whether he will take the pain and suffer through the City match remains to be seen, but it would be the ideal calling card to Fabio Capello who is sure to be in attendance.

City are at full strength in midfield where as Spurs will miss their infulential Croatian Kranjcar.

Tottenham will have the advantage as far as defence and midfield is concerned. They are a better unit at the back—Youness Kaboul has come in for Corluka without breaking stride,  Michael Dawson has progressed into a real candidate for South Africa, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto is the only real weak link at left full.

Roberto Mancini's men have lacked a certain creative spark through the middle this year, and it is likely that he will bring Shaun Wright-Phillips in at right midfield in an effort to expose the Cameroonian.

However, that could be tempered by the fact that Gareth Bale is certain to start in left midfield for Spurs, and one would think that Mancini's Italian mentality might take over and go with a defensive player instead of the nippy winger.

The middle of the park is where the battle will be won and lost. Patrick Vieira will almost certainly start with Gareth Barry and possibly Nigel De-Jong.

It will be interesting to see if Redknapp starts with Aaron Lennon or if he'll keep the winger on the bench. It might be a gamble worth taking as there will be no point worrying about the match on Sunday if City win, however if Spurs can keep it tight and take a draw the advantage swings to them.

Harry Redknapp should counter City's midfield by dropping Luka Modric to the bench and starting with the highly combative duo of Tom Huddlestone and Wilson Palacios. If Spurs do go with this midfield pairing then expect City to hit their forward line early and quickly.

At the moment City have one of the most formidable strike-forces in the league with Carlos Tevez in fantastic form. He will be making his 100th Premier League start and needs just one goal to reach the magical 50 milestone. Craig Bellamy is ample backup to the Argentinian and is a handful for any defence, while Emmanuel Adebayor is a brilliant as he is contrary. If all three are on form then City can blow any team away.
Contrast their form with the attacking players of Spurs who seem to have gone off the boil at the most important time for the club.

Peter Crouch has been in and out all year, Roman Pavlyuchenko seems to be playing at a good level, but his finishing boots have deserted him, and Jermaine Defoe looks bereft of confidence.

Add everything together and it makes for a highly intriguing and entertaining match.

Both sides like to play football and the game will boil down to the individual battles all over the pitch.
Both teams will look to exploit each others defences. Bellamy and Pavlyuchenko will drop deep giving problems to the centre halves and centre midfielders causing confusion as to who should pick up who.
If Spurs can push on from the middle with Huddlestone, who can shoot from anywhere, this will make City's defenders follow their counterparts leaving gaps for the lightning quick Defoe to expose. The exact same can be said for City and Tevez, but Dawson is a better defender than Toure and the difference between winning and losing could be a fine line.

The game is almost too tight to call, but Spurs have that little bit extra through their team that could make the difference.

It is worth noting that of Spurs eight trips to the top eight teams in the league they have yet to win. However, Spurs have won 11 of the last 12 fixtures between the two clubs.

Home advantage for such a huge game cannot be underestimated and City will start as slight favourites for a match that will award the winning team more money than the Champions League Final and will shape the league for years to come.