Tonight sees one of the biggest battles for fourth place in Barclays Premier League history as Manchester City host Tottenham Hotspur with a lucrative fourth UEFA Champions League spot up for grabs.
If Spurs can win tonight, they are assured of Champions League qualification, as they lead City by one point, with only one game to play this weekend after tonight. A win for City would see them in the driving seat, and would mean that a positive result on Saturday against West Ham would be enough to see them qualify in fourth.
Spurs have been a little more Jekyll and Hyde than most teams this season, with their home form good enough to be easily top four, but their away form is far worse. City also have an excellent home record, and would be top four had they converted just one of their eight away draws into a victory.
Tonight’s game takes place in Manchester, so should we expect a simple City win to be a formality? Not if we watch football regularly. This is a massive game. Roberto Mancini has called it a “must win” game for his Sky Blue men. Harry Redknapp feels that Spurs “deserve” a spot in the Champions League for their performances across the season.
Certainly Spurs have shown a dramatic increase in consistency, perhaps owing most to the improved confidence of first choice goalkeeper Gomez and the injury free season enjoyed by maturing centre-half Michael Dawson, who is surely a real contender for a place on the South Africa bound England World Cup aeroplane. Defensively, they have enough to win a 90 minute match against an attack as powerful and prolific as City’s.
Bellamy and Adebayor, the City strikers, are both capable of scoring goals from the slimmest of chances. They are both also relatively volatile characters, who can erupt at all around if things don’t go their way, in stark contrast to the team spirit Spurs can often exhibit. A red card tonight would not be a huge surprise.
It would be unfair not to mention Crouch and Defoe – and the resurgent Roman Pavliachenko – who are adept at scoring aided by Spurs’ young midfield: in a match where it looks as though they must score, the odds have to be that they will, at least once.
Whether City can overtake Tottenham at home will, therefore, likely come down to whether they can score more than once against Tottenham’s stingy defence – the third best in the league in terms of goals conceded.
Much will depend upon the two goalkeepers tonight: Huerelho Gomes and the young replacement for Given, Marton Fulop, are both ‘keepers capable of making phenomenal saves, but it is Gomes who seems the most likely to pull off a “worldie”. Both ‘keepers seem prone to the odd clanger, so this will be another fascinating aspect to this match.
Spurs need a point, but to look for one with a team good enough to score twice against – and defeat – the Champions Elect, Chelsea, would seem to be the wrong option.
Both teams should be looking to win tonight. This is one of those matches that could go either way. Play this match, at Eastlands, ten times, with the same squad, and we’d probably see 3 City wins, 5 draws and 2 Spurs wins. It is that close.
This sort of match is what the Premier League is all about – when it comes down to it, all Redknapp and Mancini can do is shake hands, and sit down for a nervous 90 minutes.
Tonights game kicks off at 20:00pm BST, 21:00 CET.
Barclays Premier League – Current 4th and 5th