Tottenham welcome Manchester City to White Hart Lane this evening three points behind fourth place, knowing a win against the high-flying, free-scoring machine that Manuel Pellegrini has built will take them level with Liverpool. However, it won't be easy.
City have already scored over 100 goals and it's not February yet. When the two sides met earlier in the season, Spurs were trounced 6-0 so they'll be hoping for a reversal of that result tonight.
There will be battles all over the pitch tonight but here are the three key matchups that will decide who wins.
Sergio Aguero & Alvaro Negredo vs. Michael Dawson & Vlad Chiriches
Aguero and Negredo have been sublime this season, scoring 48 goals in all competitions combined. The latter of the fearsome pairing arrived at City in the summer and looks like he's been playing with Aguero for years. Their link-up is fantastic and one of them normally scores, no matter the result.
Aguero is currently trailing Luis Suarez in the Premier League's Golden Boot race with 14 goals. He missed the best part of a month with a calf injury but has scored six goals in the four matches he's played since returning. He scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup last weekend so is back on-form and will trouble Spurs' defence.
City's duo will come up against Michael Dawson and Vlad Chiriches, who have built a steady partnership over the last few weeks. They're still leaking goals under Tim Sherwood but are not on the end of heavy defeats like earlier in the season. Spurs' form has picked up thanks to the attackers finally clicking but Dawson and Chiriches have formed a healthy bond at the heart of Sherwood's defence.
In six games under Sherwood, the central defensive pairing of Chiriches and Dawson have conceded just five goals, a contrast to the 21 conceded in the previous 16 matches under Andre Villas-Boas.
However, they'll have their work cut out for them against Negredo and Aguero. Other than Suarez and Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool, you'd say that City's front two are the best in the Premier League on current form. Aguero has hit the target with a superb 60 percent of his shots this season, converting 26.4 percent of them—lethal. That's why he's scored 14 goals in just 16 matches.
Negredo, too, has been fantastic but has not scored as many in the league as he'd have hoped. With 23 in all competitions, Negredo's nine goals in the league isn't a fantastic figure but his overall goal-scoring form means he's a constant threat. In 12 matches outside of the league, Negredo has 14 goals, proving how good he is in front of goal.
The scary thing about Negredo and Aguero is that, if one is not performing well, the other is still likely to score, and that's what makes a strike partnership great.
If Dawson and Chiriches can have one their best performances of the season, they could stop City's front two. However, they are sublime and one will probably score. It's an incredibly tough ask for Spurs' central pairing.
Emmanuel Adebayor vs. Vincent Kompany
Down at the other end of the field is where Spurs have been so good since Sherwood took over. His emphasis on gung-ho, all-out attack has worked so far, apart from hiccups in the FA Cup to Arsenal and a draw with West Brom.
Emmanuel Adebayor has been the main reason for Tottenham's change in fortunes. With five goals in his last six matches, only Suarez (six) has more in the Premier League since Sherwood took charge.
Since being reintroduced into the first-team setup, Adebayor has hit 70 percent of his shots on target, converting a mammoth 50 percent into goals. Five goals in six games, as well as 10 created chances that include two assists, mean Adebayor is Tottenham's key man this evening.
If he can continue his fantastic run of form, City may have a problem at the back. They have all the talent in the world in attack but if the Togolese forward can perform as well as he has been, Vincent Kompany could have problems.
Kompany has been his usual self in City's defence. Apart from a bizarre own goal against Fulham towards the end of 2013, the Belgian has been immovable. He has won 58 percent of his duels since returning to fitness at the start of December. Those duels include winning 18 tackles but his aerial dominance may be important up against Adebayor. Kompany has won 13 of the last 16 headed duels he's contested, which is a frightening figure for a centre forward to face.
Adebayor has won the same number of headed duels in the past six matches, but he needed 37 attempts to get there.
Something else that Kompany offers is his ability to step out of defence and help out in attack. His 10/12 take-ons prove that, but if Adebayor can squeeze into the gap left behind by the Belgian, he could punish City and hinder their title bid.
Adebayor up against Kompany will be as good a battle as City's front two against Dawson and Chiriches. If Kompany is on-form, Spurs will find it incredibly difficult to score.
Christian Eriksen vs. Fernandinho
Man City's midfield has controlled most games in the Premier League this season and that's testament to the job that Fernandinho does. He breaks play up, keeps the tempo going with slick passing but can also swap roles with Yaya Toure and break forward, sparking attacks.
The Brazilian cost City £30 million which many thought was too much, but he's showing exactly why they paid so much for him. His controlled dominance in the centre of the pitch allows the likes of Toure, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri and David Silva to constantly flood forward in attack. He is key to how City play as he allows the attacking players to flourish by providing a solid platform to build from.
He will have a tougher job than he has had most weeks tonight, though, as Christian Eriksen is in fine form. The Danish midfielder, like Adebayor, has flourished under Sherwood, scoring three goals in six matches and providing two assists.
His silky style of play, drifting in from the left-hand side of the pitch to create centrally is working perfectly in Sherwood's system. Eriksen scored the winner at Old Trafford doing just that: drifting in from the left and producing quality centrally.
Only Adebayor has created more chances under Sherwood, showing how creative and effective Eriksen has been. His form means Fernandinho will need to be aware of the Dane's positioning throughout otherwise, he could hurt City by cutting them open with one pass.
Equally, though, Eriksen will need to stick tight to Fernandinho whenever he has the ball otherwise he can kick-start a City counter-attack. Fernandinho has completed 87 percent of his passes and won 46 tackles, showing his dominance in that area of the field.
Eriksen may need to give an excellent defensive performance as Fernandinho not only defends well and shields the back four, but he can create, proven by his 23 completed key passes. City have had 18 shots from counter-attacks which, again, shows Fernandinho's ability to turn defence into attack in a flash.
The three battles mentioned will decide the match at White Hart Lane tonight. All three are as intriguing as they are entertaining and will be fantastic to watch.
If City's attacking duo continue to fire like they have done all season, Spurs could be in trouble. If Dawson and Chiriches struggle to hold them down, it could be another drubbing. City have averaged 2.8 goals per game so you would assume that one of the pair will score.
Equally, at the other end, Emmanuel Adebayor has been in fine form. If he continues his excellent scoring run, City could have problems on their hands.
Personally, I believe it all comes down to midfield and whether Fernandinho can orchestrate as well as he has done all season. If the Brazilian can keep Eriksen quiet and pull the strings as he does so well, the three points will be traveling back up to Manchester.
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