Manchester City will be looking to end their inconsistent season and start winning some games again. The Premier League title is almost impossible, but the fight for a top-four finish and a Champions League place is heating up, and facing Tottenham Hotspur this weekend will have massive implications in the Top 4 race.
Ahead of Saturday's match, I sat down with Sean Cahill of SB Nation's Tottenham blog, Cartilage Free Captain. We talked tactics, Dele Alli's hot streak, Harry Kane changing diapers, and the very handsome Spurs manager.
All right, let's start with a simple one: how did you beat Chelsea? Because we looked a little silly trying that. We still got them at Stamford Bridge this season, so we need your formula.
I think it can best be summed up by Spurs imposing their will. The midfield made sure to disconnect Chelsea's midfield from their attackers for most of the match and the 3-4-3 seemed to be the catalyst for it. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are playing on an entirely different level at fullback and seeing them constantly push up to create pressure certainly doesn't hurt. It ended up being pretty simple with the goals, though. A couple of simple crosses into the box by Eriksen to the waiting head of Dele Alli and that was the ball game. The defense was only truly tested a handful of times and Chelsea never looked comfortable. Press, press, press.
Mauricio Pochettino is not only pretty, he's also a pretty damn good coach. How impressed are you with how he continues to find solutions and evolve his team?
We certainly are lucky to have him. With past coaches such as Andre Villas-Boas, there wasn't much of a change tactically. Usually we'd see one formation or a slight variant of it (AVB loved the 4-2-3-1 but would switch to a 4-3-3) and that would be it. Pochettino has utilized the team's strengths in ways we hadn't thought of. We still see the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 from time to time, but this switch to the 3-4-3 has been amazing. Walker and Rose, as I previously mentioned, are able to get forward faster and join the attack while the midfield can stay tight and wreck the opposing midfield without much concern. If you watch the match against West Bromwich Albion, that first 45 minutes of play is the best football I've seen Spurs play. It was beautiful to watch and only when WBA had one or two free kicks was there any concern. Other than that, they pinned WBA back and didn't let them breathe.
Dele Alli is probably in the hottest streak of his young career. Is he really as good as he has been lately or is he overachieving? Also, how many goals is he scoring on Saturday?
I think we can eliminate the "overachiever" label from him and just call him a damn fine footballer. Granted, his run of form in the last month has been outstanding and the club was smart enough to give him another pay bump. I have a feeling he'll get another one next season because at the rate he's scoring goals, Spurs will have to do just that. As for Saturday, I've got him pegged for at least one. He just has a knack for finding the right spot to support the attack and put the ball in the back of the net.
Harry Kane is a dad now, so do you think there's a chance he might lose sleep changing diapers and have a bad afternoon at the Etihad?
If we had any concern, he put that to bed against West Brom with his hat trick!
Harry is obviously in amazing form as well, and I would be stunned if he had a bad day at the office come Saturday. After a slow start and an injury costing him several weeks, he's showing just why he's truly England's #9. One of the things that truly amazes me with him is how much power he gets on shots from awkward positions. There were two shots against WBA that, when you look at the angle of where he makes contact, you just think there's zero chance that ball has any zip on it, only to watch it fly at the net. It's amazing to think that this is a player just a few years ago who was struggling to score in the Championship at places like Leicester and Millwall.
Christian Eriksen is one of the best playmakers in the Premier League today. How does he do it?
His vision is incredible. Eriksen looks for passes in spots that nobody would think of, and he manages to find ways to at least get a shot assist. There are some times where he does dribble into trouble but he's learned to minimize those spots as the season has gone on. He's also found a great partnership with Dele Alli in the attacking band where they can rotate freely around Kane to find better spots to attack. It's so fun to watch when all three of them clicking.
How big of a loss is Jan Vertonghen's injury not only for this weekend but the rest of the season? Can Toby Alderweireld be as good as he is without Jan? Also, who replaces Vertonghen on Saturday?
The injury to Verts is a blow, there's no denying it. However, Pochettino said the scan is better than expected and he's out six weeks. That being said, we never, ever trust what he says with injuries. One of the long running memes on our site is "He's 90%" and I have no doubt we'll hit the end of February and we'll hear that "he's close" only for him to not show up until April.
As for Toby, there is no concern. In my opinion he's the best defender in the league and you can put just about anyone next to him and they'll look amazing.
Taking all of this into consideration, Pochettino has Kevin Wimmer and Ben Davies to choose from. Wimmer slotted in nicely last season when Verts went down and the defense rarely missed a step, but we're in a curious situation because Davies plays the LCB spot for Wales and is quite good at it. It's entirely possible that we see the 3-4-3 with Davies in that spot or he can roll with Wimmer-Toby in a standard 4-2-3-1. We probably won't know which until an hour before kickoff Saturday.
Spurs have been playing with three at the back over the last month, with great results. Will that continue this weekend or do you see a change in the formation with Vertonghen's injury? What's the probable starting lineup?
If Jan Vertonghen hadn't been injured, there is zero doubt in my mind we'd see the 3-4-3. That changes the perspective a bit, but I think the formation and tactics are working so well that we won't see a different formation, so expect to see this:
3-4-3 (left-right): Lloris | Davies, Alderweireld, Dier | Rose, Dembele, Wanyama, Walker | Alli, Kane, Eriksen
I am surprisingly optimistic going into this match. Spurs are rolling, and looking at the problems City have in their midfield and defense, if Everton can put four past them, I don't see a reason why Spurs can't do the same. There's still that little voice in the back of my head going "BUT IT'S THE ETIHAD!!!" and remembering that until last season it was a house of horrors for a few years. I'm choosing to ignore that voice and go with blatant optimism.
Spurs announce their presence in the title race loudly with a 4-1 victory.