Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City: 4 Key Battles to Watch
Back in 2010 and 2011, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur fought out late-season battles that decided who would take fourth place over the other for that season—Spurs coming out on top first time around, City pipping them a year later.
Man City's primary target has changed somewhat since then.
For the reigning Premier League champions and FA Cup finalists, Sunday's trip to White Hart Lane is about keeping alive their faint hopes of retaining their crown (and not falling too far behind Manchester United). Tottenham, meanwhile, are once again needing points off Roberto Mancini's side if they want another crack at the Champions League.
Unlike the more definitive nature of 2010's meeting, a win for Spurs is needed to keep them in the hunt during their remaining fixtures. As midfielder Lewis Holtby remarked in an interview with his club's official website, "starting against City...these six games are our cup finals."
At the time of writing, team news has not yet been confirmed for the weekend's game. Nonetheless, here are four battles (both positional and player-specific) to potentially keep an eye on in a match with plenty at stake.
Emmanuel Adebayor vs. Vincent Kompany
Emmanuel Adebayor's performance in Tottenham's 2-1 loss to Man City in November was one of the the striker's more spirited performances this season. It was notable because there have been so few of them.
In fairness to Adebayor, recent weeks have seen an upturn in his efforts and effectiveness. The penalty miss against Basel was an unfortunate coda to a decent night's work, while against Everton the previous weekend he scored and was one of his team standout performers.
A similar determination to involve himself against City this time around is a must if Spurs are to cause the champions any problems around the penalty area. Vincent Kompany (alongside either Joleon Lescott or Matija Nastasic) in central defense will ultimately be the one charged with keeping Adebayor quiet.
As energetic as the Spurs striker was against his former club last year, there was a lack of focus in how he channeled this energy. Like he did against Arsenal a week later, he played with the fire of a man with something to prove at his old stomping ground—but this exuberance was not tethered to the realities of the occasion.
Spurs want Adebayor to be hungry for the ball, but he has to be looking for it in the right places. Where these will be may depend on the personnel behind him and how they look to get forward.
One area where this will happen regardless will be in the central position occupied by Kompany. City's captain can stand toe-to-toe with Adebayor and can nullify the forward easily if he remains stationary. Therefore, it is vital Adebayor gives him something to think about.
Making smart runs that lure him out of position and open space up would be ideal, but Kompany will not easily be tricked. Adebayor's application is key here—both in staying alert and keeping mobile in a five- to 10-yard radius around his opponent.
It might just cause that moment's hesitation or drop in concentration that allows Spurs a scoring opportunity. There they have to make the most of it, as opportunities will be few.
Mousa Dembele vs. Yaya Toure
Mousa Dembele was absent when Tottenham played Man City last November and it proved costly.
The Sandro-Tom Huddlestone midfield were little match athletically in opposing City's sprightly and incisive runners. While the latter's struggle to bring the ball forward left Clint Dempsey severely isolated without someone to drop off to link up with.
Dembele should be fit this time around, but the Belgian is looking increasingly exhausted, such is the workload he carries for his team.
City's own midfield driving force, Yaya Toure, is similarly important to his side but has greater help around him in defending and joining up with his team's attack. Even away from home, he will fancy his chances of dominating the midfield on Sunday.
The effectiveness with which Dembele fights back could depend on how Andre Villas-Boas sets up the team around him. Scott Parker, Lewis Holtby, Tom Carroll or whoever cannot afford to be giving the ball away easily, nor can they leave their teammate outnumbered as the last line in front of the defense.
It will give Spurs their best chance of allowing Dembele to engage with the City midfield, particularly Toure, and not allow them to have it all their own way. Even with his tiring legs, Dembele is a player well capable of imposing himself on others to an extent his opposition counterparts could have their work cut out too.
Stopping Toure does not necessarily stop Man City, but it would make it harder for them to impose their own will on the game.
Tottenham Defense vs. Carlos Tevez
Carlos Tevez's winner in the win against Wigan Athletic on Wednesday was a fine example of the deadliness with which he can strike when given space around the box. Tottenham's defense can ill-afford to allow him such freedom on Sunday.
Other Man City threats like Toure, Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri will require they remain alert from start to finish anyway, but in the possible absence of the injured Sergio Aguero, it is Tevez who is his team's biggest danger-man.
Spurs must track him at all times. Not for a second can they allow the Argentinian out of their sight, and it is important they constantly communicate in designating who minds him as he floats around the pitch.
Should they do so, Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson have it in them to defend Tevez close-up. Dawson's willingness to block shots could be big given the striker's potency from 18 yards out.
Tevez, though, will be counting on his teammates to demand the attentions of the Spurs defense elsewhere. The lapses in concentration that have plagued the North Londoners throughout this season are the kind he thrives on taking advantage of
Spurs' Ability to Defend Their Left Flank
Maicon has not made a big impact for Manchester City since joining last year. But in their defeat of Tottenham in November, he was able to claim a minor personal triumph in getting one back on Gareth Bale.
The former Inter Milan defender had been the subject of many a joke and taunt following the runarounds the Welsh winger gave him in the Champions League back in 2010. This time, it was his second-half arrival that helped instigate a change in momentum, with his runs down his right wing putting Bale and Spurs on the back foot.
With Bale still a doubt for this weekend's game and Maicon unlikely to play, it will not be the contest between these two that defines the action on this flank. However, this stretch of pitch could once again be important in determining the game's outcome.
Spurs' uncertainty on this side leaves them liable to be exposed once again here. Even with Bale and Jan Vertonghen positioned there last time, the pair struggled to deal with City's increasing number of attacks.
Given Spurs have not played the same left-back for two games in a row in quite some time now, it is an area Roberto Mancini may look to hit frequently again
Either Pablo Zabaleta or the fit-again Micah Richards will relish the thought of joining their team's attacks down that wing. Gylfi Sigurdsson, the likely midfielder in front of them for Spurs will have his work cut out in involving himself going forward while having to mind their presence.
Behind Sigurdsson, whoever is chosen at left-back has a job on their hands too. The balance between individual duties on the left and keeping a steady and organized line with his fellow defenders is not one Vertonghen, Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Kyle Naughton has got right too often this season (though obviously the inconsistency of selection has not helped).
What Villas-Boas has in mind for shoring up this potential weak spot will not be clear until just prior to kickoff.