Stephen Tudor previews Sunday’s clash between City and Spurs.
It is a delicious twist of fate that takes Manchester City down to North London this weekend for their season’s opener, as the Harry Kane transfer saga intensifies.
The latest developments have the Spurs striker back in training but quarantined from the rest of the group, a situation that is poetically apt as well as necessary. Though the player is available for selection this Sunday, it is doubtful he will play any significant minutes and the likeliest scenario from a miasma of unknowns is that presently English television, SkySports, are arranging a ‘Kane-cam’ to show every expression he makes from either the bench or the stands.
The probable absence of a goalscoring phenomenon who has struck 166 times in 245 appearances for his club is clearly a critical factor when addressing this game and oddly that applies to City as much as Spurs, despite the reigning champions having no claim on Kane beyond desiring him to the tune of $250m. Due to the staggered return of his leading men post-Euros, Pep Guardiola’s squad is currently a patchwork of personnel at very different levels of readiness. As we witnessed from a toothless offensive against Leicester last week in the Community Shield, this is a problem most acute up front.
Neither Raheem Sterling or Gabriel Jesus featured in any of City’s friendlies, nor were they involved at Wembley, and though they will get game-time here, don’t expect them to last the full 90 minutes. Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden meanwhile are unavailable and Sergio Aguero is now a cherished memory, so what City wouldn’t give for a prolific focal point as they begin their title defence with a tough league fixture they have consecutively lost in recent seasons. Well, we know what they’d give. $250m.
As for Spurs, new boss Nuno Espirito Santo has attempted to compensate for the big Kane-shaped hole in his attack across Tottenham’s pre-season by partnering up Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min and from this we’ve seen mixed results. By and large, his team have lacked a cutting edge, although it’s certainly encouraging that Son has found the net with regularity, while there has been plenty of evidence of midfield resilience too in unbeaten performances against Chelsea and Arsenal.
Son is +275 to net anytime in what could be a low-scoring but highly dramatic opening fixtures and the South Korean boasts an impressive goalscoring record of six in 13 matches against City.
???? | #Tottenham head coach Nuno Espírito Santo: "Sonny is very special, a very special player. Beyond all the talent and quality that he has, he has a characteristic that is very important – he is happy. He smiles. He works with a smile. He is contagious."
— The Spurs Express (@TheSpursExpress) August 9, 2021
Briefly staying with the goalscoring market, if you’re looking for a City hero, look no further than Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian bagged the winner in this fixture three seasons back and scored in each of City’s three friendlies. It will mostly fall on him and Jack Grealish to provide a spark of creativity for the visitors, with the latter expected to receive nearly as much attention from the cameras as Kane.
Mahrez is +650 to be the game’s first goalscorer and with City’s quality vastly outstripping their fitness levels and general cohesion right now it’s not implausible to suggest they might start brightest before fading.
But back to Tottenham, and a project that’s very much at a wait-and-see stage of development with bids reportedly flying in for strikers Lautaro Martinez and Dusan Vlahovic; a new centre-back in Christian Romero who is injured; not to mention a Spanish winger called Bryan (Gil) who may, or may not, electrify the Premier League. Plus, of course there is Nuno, a coach who arrived in the capital with a reputation for playing five at the back and favouring solid football but who has so far organised his Spurs side quite progressively.
Is it too fanciful to recall that for the opening game of last season, the Portuguese boss hosted Manchester City, set Wolves up in a 5-3-2, and lost? Might we therefore see Sergio Reguilon and Matt Doherty given licence to attack down the flanks, with Steven Bergwijn additionally urged to replicate his damaging debut for Spurs when his Man of the Match display helped his side beat the Blues 2-0? If so, the first half could be chaotic and for both sides substitutes in the second period will prove key.
A 1-1 draw is fancied for this one at +650 with +375 available for both teams to score in the first 45.
Mention of City’s 3-1 victory over Wolves last September, that ultimately heralded in a title-winning campaign, brings to mind their early travails, that produced just three wins from their opening eight fixtures and had Guardiola’s men languishing in the unfamiliar environs of mid-table. It was an initial struggle largely brought about by a far-from-ideal and truncated pre-season, and this time too there have been issues aplenty, namely hastily arranged friendlies due to Covid complications and pivotal figures not returning until last week.
If there are to be similarities with last term, perhaps it’s wise to leave any outlandish bets on this formidable collective until they become a collective again. For the time being, it’s sensible to be sensible.
City are +335 to score under 0.5 in the second period at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Last season they converted only six times in their first 16 games in the second half until they became whole again, firing on all cylinders.