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Premier League Preview: Tottenham vs. Manchester City

Jan 28, 2014, 9:59 PM EDT

Aguero is fully fit and raring to go at Anfield on Sunday. AP
  • Manchester City can take first place from Arsenal with a win at White Hart Lane
  • Spurs have yet to lose in Premier League play under Tim Sherwood
  • City on pace of league record 108 goals.

With a league record goal-scoring pace and the division’s best difference (+38), City has long been considered the best team in the Premier League (if we can call two months “long”). That they’ve gained that status while sitting second is a testament to Arsenal’s consistency, though after the leaders’ slip on Tuesday against Southampton, City has its opening. Beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane, and Manuel Pellegrini’s team climbs to the top.

Given what we saw in the team’s first meeting, City should be heavily favorited to make that jump. On Nov. 24 at the Etihad, the Citizens posted a 6-0 pasting on Spurs, the first of two lopsided victories that led to André Villas-Boas‘s dismissal. While Tottenham have been a better team under Tim Sherwood, it’s unclear they are six goals better than they were in Manchester.

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Under Sherwood, Spurs have already had to travel to Old Trafford and the Emirates (splitting those games), but with City’s visit to White Hart Lane, the new boss faces his toughest challenge yet. Like the rest of the league, a defense of Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson, Vlad Chiriches and Danny Rose will be hard pressed to contain the likes of Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Yaya Touré and Edin Dzeko, particularly behind a midfield that’s not playing a typical defensive midfielder. Sherwood’s back-to-basics approach may have served his team well thus far, but against a team of City’s talent, he may need something clever.

Whether he can come up with it will hint at his ability to guide Spurs into Champions League. No, he doesn’t need to win on Wednesday to keep Tottenham’s top four hopes alive, but from a man who has never coached at the top level before, it would be nice for Spurs fans to see something that shows he can get the tough points. Sherwood has a result at Old Trafford, but does he have the tactical savvy to carve out results against Liverpool and Everton? To steal points from Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea?

While results have trended upward since Villas-Boas’s dismissal, Spurs’ performances have been more steady than convincing. On Wednesday, the team gets a chance to show it can do more than keep up with the top four. They get to do some damage.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, about having never won a title in Europe: ““I am not only thinking just to win a title here for myself because I think it is important the club wins a title. But to win the title, you must win more points than the other clubs. I think in the second half every team will drop points, it is important for us to drop fewer.”

Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood, on the importance of a result on Wednesday: “It would provide them with huge belief. To walk away with three points, it would make the players realise that they could go out and compete. It is one thinking it and another going out and doing it. I trust the players can out and do it on the night. The players are well grounded however and won’t get too high or too low depending on the result.”

Prediction

It’s not that I don’t think Spurs can win. I just think it’s reaching to pick them. We know there’s inherent variability in sports, and in a low-scoring game like soccer, it’s easier for that variability to turn a result. But to predict how that variability will present itself? That’s beyond me. City, 2-1.

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