The figure every Manchester City fan is desperate to see return is Vincent Kompany, without whom they look rudderless. In the eight league games he’s started this season they’ve conceded only once; in the other 17 they’ve let in 25. It’s hoped he will be back by the end of the month, but he will not be ready for Sunday. City will also be without at least one key creative presence. Kevin De Bruyne’s knee injury will mean he misses most of the rest of the season, while David Silva is a doubt after limping off during the defeat to Leicester with an ankle problem. Wilfried Bony misses out with a calf injury while City have also suffered a spate of hamstring problems, Jesus Navas and Eliaquim Mangala joining Samir Nasri.
Tottenham have largely avoided muscular injuries this season, and their only two absentees are Jan Vertonghen and Clinton N’Jie, both of whom have damaged knees.
If Leicester didn’t exist, we’d be hearing a lot more about Tottenham. After the defeat to Leicester in mid-January, they’ve won four in a row – albeit against lesser sides – and seven of their last nine. The major doubt that remains is whether they quite have the necessary incisiveness or whether they will continue to draw too many games that they ought to win.
Since mid-October, a period of 16 games, City have won alternate matches. The good news is that pattern would produce a win against Spurs, but the reality is that form like that cannot win a league title. Manuel Pellegrini said after the defeat to Leicester last Saturday that it would be easy to blame the limp performance on the news that he will be replaced by Pep Guardiola at the end of the season but that it wouldn’t be true.
He’s right: City have been guilty of instances of insipidness all season, as seen in the three-goal defeats to Liverpool and, intriguingly, Tottenham.
That game, at the end of September, was the first real sign that something was wrong at City. They’d won their first five games of the season and had then been a little unfortunate to lose at home to West Ham, but the capitulation in the second half at White Hart Lane suggested just how short of leadership they had become. City even had the better of the first half, taking the lead only for Eric Dier to level on the strike of half-time but, with Sergio Aguero not fully fit and Yaya Toure limping off after 56 minutes, Spurs ripped them apart in the second half, winning 4-1.
Erik Lamela had arguably his best game for the club as Aleksandr Kolarov couldn’t get close to him. Kolarov’s defensive shortcomings were shown up by Riyad Mahrez on Saturday and it would be no great surprise if he were left out for the more defensive option of Gael Clichy at left-back.
THE SQUARE OF UNCERTAINTY
For a while, and particularly last season, it was possible to sympathise with City’s central defenders because they were afforded so little protection by holding midfielders. More recently, though, everybody’s been playing terribly.
Martin Demichelis remains painfully slow, Nicolas Otamendi’s decision-making has gone to pot, Fabian Delph seems overawed, Fernando has never settled, Fernandinho seems frazzled by the chaos all around him and Yaya Toure shuffles through games interspersing general disinterest with infrequent moments of genius. What should provide the solid platform is a mess and Christian Eriksen, back towards his best form, could exploit that.
Sergio Aguero has effectively carried City this season, but even he needs support. With De Bruyne injured and Silva doubtful, that places a huge onus on Raheem Sterling to offer the necessary creativity. Of late he’s started in an odd vaguely left but essentially central role. Given Tottenham’s strength at the back of midfield, it’s perhaps time for a return to the wing.
SPURS AGAINST TOP SIDES
Tottenham have played five games against other sides in the top four this season and have won just one of them, losing two. They’ve also failed to beat either Liverpool or Chelsea at home. A lack of cover at centre-forward is perhaps the biggest doubt over their credentials for the title, but their record in big games isn’t great either.
Given how bad City were last week, their injury problems and Tottenham’s run of form, there seems little to recommend backing them to win at 2.12. The doubt about Spurs’ capacity to open up resilient opponents simply doesn’t apply here, so it makes sense either to back them at 3.50 or, for something a little more cautious, +0.25 at 2.02.