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Match Preview: Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur

Friday 20th January 2012
For decades, two of the biggest clubs in English football have languished in the shadows of their great rivals. For both Spurs and Manchester City, the nineties and the first decade of this century were largely forgettable. The epic FA Cup final replay in 1981 was just a memory as season upon season of mediocrity, and worse, passed by. In recent years, that has changed. Unremarkable meetings between two teams notable only for their uncanny ability to find defeat in a victory have been replaced by a series of heavyweight showdowns. On Sunday, veritable champions-elect Manchester City, host Tottenham Hotspur in the third incarnation of this fixture in as many years with potentially seismic consequences.

In 2009-10, as both sides battled to break into the “Sky Four”, this fixture was postponed until the Wednesday before the last day of the season. Spurs needed to win to be the first team in five years to break the monopoly of Champions League football in England. Peter Crouch scored what is, for Spurs fans, one of the most memorable goals in recent years; not for its quality, but for its meaning. Again the next season, the two sides seemed to be rivals for fourth place. Again it was Peter Crouch who made the decisive contribution. His own goal gave Man City a 1-0 victory and confirmed their participation in Europe's top competition. City went on to best the other North London club and finish third.

This season, sights have been set even higher. Since an opening day 4-0 win, Man City have looked the team to beat. Subsequent thrashings of Spurs and Manchester United seemed to confirm their pre-eminence. Since then, Spurs have climbed the table, quietly at first and with gradually increasing attention and they had a chance to move into equal first with victory last Saturday. They failed to beat Wolves and are now five points behind City as attention shifts to the Etihad once more.

Many Spurs fans seem optimistic about their chances on Sunday afternoon. On Twitter they invoke the #spiritof81 as they point out perceived weaknesses in the team that has scored 57 goals and conceded just 16. They've been very impressive this season, but there are weaknesses. The absence of the Toure brothers and Vincent Kompany means they are more lightweight than usual. Savic and Barry come into the team and they are not as strong as the players they replace. Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker will attack down City's left flank. Neither Kolarov nor Clichy is a particularly strong defender. Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko are two of the Premier League's top scorers but they have been inconsistent. Dzeko has just one goal in his last ten matches. Aguero has one in his last four and three in his last seven.

City are not that far away from Spurs from a statistical point of view. Spurs have created eight more chances and twelve more tackles; virtually identical numbers across 21 matches. City make one more pass per minute. That adds up to 1,000 more completed passes so far this season. The biggest advantage they have is in chance conversion. City have been clinical with their chances. They have converted 19% of them; Spurs have just 14%. That leads to a statistical anomaly. Emmanuel Adebayor, Spurs' top scorer in the league this season, has converted just 15% of his chances. In contrast, Jermain Defoe is at 21%. Incidentally, Defoe has improved his chance conversion by more than double. He converted just 10% last season. He is likely to make his eighth start of the campaign on Sunday and his more direct approach should serve Spurs well. Defoe is also more prone to run with the ball. He has 10 successful dribbles, two thirds of Adebayor's total. This is an area where City can be exploited. They have been dribbled past 144 times (compared to Spurs' 110). If Spurs are able to get enough of the ball (they had just 40% in the 5-1) their playmakers will be able to find space for their ball runners. Bale, Lennon, Defoe, Walker and Assou-Ekotto are all dangerous runners and Modric, Van der Vaart and Parker are capable of finding space with their passes.

City have been in first place since mid-October. A Spurs victory would allow Manchester United to draw level with victory against Arsenal but City are strong favourites and deservedly so. Spurs will fancy their chances of putting City under pressure but they will surely score, and they have only conceded more than one goal on four occasions. Spurs have an excellent record in this fixture and will be keen to avenge the crushing 5-1 embarrassment in August.
Samuel Rooke

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