A glimmer of hope: history favours Tottenham Hotspur to derail Manchester City juggernaut
The Premier League leaders travel to White Hart Lane out to maintain their perfect start to the new season, but history favours the home side after visitors suffer Champions League wobble
Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City go head-to-head in the English Premier League on Sunday and, as well as Spurs themselves, the other title hopefuls will be hoping the home side can bring a halt to the 100 per cent domestic record currently held by Pep Guardiola’s side.
If City take their winning run to seven games, they will be at least five points clear of the pack by the end of the weekend and would go into the next international break at least six points ahead of neighbours Manchester United and definitely seven in front of Tottenham. That would be some head start for Guardiola’s title favourites.
Of course, we know that for any team life is never easy in the Premier League for very long. Think back 12 months to City’s flying start in their final season under Manuel Pellegrini, when they won their first five league matches and looked unstoppable.
But then came the first signs of trouble when they lost at home to Juventus in the Champions League and suffered defeats in their next two Premier League matches, the second of which was a 4-1 drubbing at Tottenham.
Guardiola’s serene progress was interrupted in the Champions League on Wednesday night when Celtic’s players and fans provided a stern test of City’s character in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
City trailed three times and, although they rescued a point, other teams will have seen they are far from invincible.
While a Champions League match might again prove to be the first sign of weakness, there are other similarities with last season. At the time of those five straight wins 12 months ago, the form looked good because Chelsea and Everton were among City’s victims, but subsequent events proved that to be a false assumption.
In fact, those first five wins were against the teams who finished 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th last season. No wonder the form started to unravel when City faced teams as strong as Juventus and Tottenham.
This season it is possible to argue that City’s form again has more style than substance. The best of their wins was the 2-1 victory away to United, but the other five league successes have been against teams currently in the bottom six.
So once again City arrive at Tottenham largely untested at a high level of competition. That is not to say their form under Guardiola is false, just that it is how they perform in the big-six clashes and against top teams in the Champions League that will truly reveal how much they have moved forward under their new manager.
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One question still outstanding from last season is whether City can improve their form against the better teams, particularly on the road. They won only one out of nine away to top half sides and finished bottom of the mini league involving the big six, with eight points from a possible 30, even though a couple of those teams were significantly below par.
Draws were plentiful in that mini league last season and particularly for Tottenham, who drew six out of 10 in that category. Just as significantly, they lost only once and that was at United on the opening day of last season.
This season Mauricio Pochettino’s side have faced two of the early pacesetters - Everton away and Liverpool at home - and drawn both games 1-1. Arguably their form has been put to the test more than City’s.
The vibrancy of City’s attacking play, highlighted by the resurgent form of Raheem Sterling, can hardly be faulted but there was weakness at set plays against Celtic and Tottenham are capable of exploiting that.
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Pochettino’s side, who did the double over City last season, rate the handicap pick.
Happy anniversary, Arsene Wenger. Today marks 20 years since he took charge of Arsenal, a remarkable period where he has played a major role in revolutionising the club’s standing and the outlook of English football.
While the rumbling discontent with his management has grown in recent seasons, Wenger again looks to be fashioning a top class side and Arsenal go to Burnley having won six of their last seven - with one draw away to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League - in all competitions.
Strangely enough, Arsenal’s vulnerability against up-and-at-em sides like Burnley was more acute a decade ago than it is now. In the past three seasons they have won 23 out of 30 away to bottom half sides, with only two defeats.
This season they have won decisively at Watford and Hull City, with another clear-cut victory likely at Burnley. Back Arsenal on the handicap to give Wenger the perfect present.
Watford, Derby, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal
Tottenham on handicap
Still underestimated despite solid form
Huddersfield on handicap
Championship leaders are good value
Norwich on handicap
Strong record against teams below the top eight
Hertha Berlin home win
Perfect record at home this season
Las Palmas on handicap
Coming off last week’s home 2-2 with Real Madrid
Of the last 10 Tottenham against Manchester City matches all but one have had over 2.5 goals