Having both suffered respective derby defeats at the weekend, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur aim to bounce back in a Premier League clash of the titans at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday evening.
Pep Guardiola’s men suffered a 2-1 loss to Manchester United last time out, while the Lilywhites were comprehensively beaten 2-0 by North London rivals Arsenal.
Boldly claiming that he “does not care” about the destiny of the Premier League title as his side fall further adrift of the Mikel Arteta-led Arsenal, Pep Guardiola could have arguably felt hard done by at Old Trafford, where Man United came back from a goal behind to close the gap on their noisy neighbours.
Jack Grealish headed home to put the champions in the ascendancy, but after Marcus Rashford was controversially deemed not to have been interfering with play from an offside position, Bruno Fernandes swept home before Rashford completed the turnaround late on.
Having entered the rare territory of back-to-back defeats – also going out of their prized EFL Cup at the hands of Southampton last week – Man City remain second in the rankings but are now eight points adrift of Arsenal on the same number of games, although they will temporarily reduce that gap to five with success on Thursday.
However, Man United and Newcastle United are now only one point behind City, who could even drop to third if the Red Devils overcome Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, but the wounded champions are normally a force to be reckoned with on their own turf following a humbling loss.
Then again, the hosts have failed to beat Brentford and Everton in their last two at the Etihad – having won 11 top-flight games in a row on home soil beforehand – but only once has Guardiola ever gone three home games without a league win as manager, which came all the way back in December 2016.
Only upcoming opponents Man City and Arsenal can now compete for the title, according to dejected Tottenham manager Antonio Conte, who had no complaints after witnessing his side suffer a wholly deserved North London derby defeat to the Gunners on Sunday evening.
Hugo Lloris – who keeps making rods for his own back this season – scored an inexplicable own goal before Martin Odegaard’s effort completed the job in the first half, but things turned ugly at the full-time whistle, as a spectator made his way onto the advertising boards and managed to kick Arsenal number one – and number one wind-up merchant – Aaron Ramsdale in the back.
Apparently also facing a hefty fine after Richarlison’s set-to with Ramsdale, Tottenham’s bid for Champions League qualification – and indeed their efforts to persuade Conte to agree a new contract – are faltering, as they occupy fifth position in the standings and are currently five points behind Man United having played a game more.
Securing just three victories from their last nine Premier League games is hardly form befitting that of a top-four challenging team, but in a reversal of those numbers, Conte’s men have struck an eye-catching nine goals in their last three Premier League away matches, and Spurs getting one over Guardiola is nothing new.
Indeed, the Lilywhites managed to do the double over the champions last season – spectacularly prevailing 3-2 at the Etihad – making it four wins from their last five Premier League games against Man City, but it would take a brave soul to confidently back the North Londoners to repeat recent history here.
Working without two of his primary centre-backs in Ruben Dias and John Stones for the derby, Guardiola has revealed that both men will be in contention to start this one alongside Kevin De Bruyne, who sparked concern when he missed training on Tuesday for personal reasons.
While Guardiola may decide to name Dias and Stones on the bench – with the former waiting for his first post-World Cup minutes – he is blessed the luxury of a well-rested Aymeric Laporte, and the Spain international could now force his way back in as ‘Pep roulette’ comes to the fore.
Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish and Julian Alvarez should also be in contention for starting roles at the Etihad, where Erling Braut Haaland will aim to avoid going three games without a goal for just the second time in the top five European leagues.
As for Tottenham, Conte has also witnessed his treatment room empty in the past couple of weeks, with Dejan Kulusevski returning to the first XI in the North London derby and carrying the fight to the Gunners in the second half.
Rodrigo Bentancur (groin) was not risked on Sunday, but the Uruguayan is in with a strong chance of making his comeback at the Etihad, although Lucas Moura (tendon) remains out as he ticks down the final few months of his Spurs contract.
Neeeding just two more goals to bring up 200 in the Premier League, Tottenham talisman Harry Kane is also one effort away from equalling Jimmy Greaves’s long-standing record of 266 for the club, and he has fond memories of the Etihad following his brace on the champions’ turf last term.
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Akanji, Laporte, Cancelo; Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne; Silva, Haaland, Grealish
Tottenham Hotspur possible starting lineup:
Lloris; Romero, Dier, Davies; Doherty, Hojbjerg, Bentancur, Perisic; Kulusevski, Kane, Son