Spurs fans, Manchester City devotees, and anyone who likes to use the phrase “delicately poised” will be tuning in to the huge Champions League fixture at the Etihad this evening. The champions of England, gunning for an unprecedented quadruple, already have one trophy in the cabinet. However, by the end of tonight they could be repositioning for a less-impressive domestic treble, with the title they thirst for more than any other snatched away from them. For their guests, the chance to put themselves 180 minutes away from a first-ever final in the premier European competition depends on their successfully leveraging a 1-0 first-leg lead.
This tie is genuinely hard to call. Spurs will be without Harry Kane, injured in the first meeting and probably out for the season. Then again, his absence from the fold with a previous injury coincided with some of their best form so far this campaign, thanks in no small part to the tireless and skilful Son Heung-Min.
City are a side you can never rule out – they’re probably the best team in England, but they’ve historically underperformed on this stage, their longest run in the competition ending in the 2015-16 semi-finals. They’ve also never come through a Champions League knockout tie after losing the first leg. This is not an ideal tie for the bettor, but there is value to be found out there. Read on to see where.
How do City approach the evening?
Losing at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was not the single worst thing about City’s evening in the first leg of this tie. What will really have stuck in their collective craw is the inability to score an away goal – Sergio Aguero’s missed penalty early in the night representing a missed opportunity that could end up being crucial. Spurs will know that any goal they may grab here will leave their hosts needing three, and that scale keeps rising the more the visitors can score. With the perpetual motion machine that is Son likely to start here, the home defence will need to be constantly vigilant.
This, of course, will suit Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino right down to the ground. If City have a weakness, it is in their defence when trying to play on the front foot. The hosts can either persist with Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho in front of their back four, and hamstring their attack, or leave one of the two out and cede space to Spurs’ creative forwards. Neither is good news for a team trying to overcome a 1-0 deficit against an attack like Tottenham’s. As such, we would expect both teams to score, which is available at ⅘ with Paddy Power.
Can Spurs be trusted to deliver?
One hates to use the word “choke” in relation to a football team which, like Spurs, tries to play the game in the right way without mortgaging their future on ever more expensive additions to the squad. However…
The truth is that when Tottenham have looked like making a real breakthrough in the last few seasons, they’ve often ended up not quite sticking the landing. In 2016, they could have been champions. Last season, they led 2-0 in a Turin first leg before being pegged back to 2-2 by Juventus, and also led in the home leg but were knocked out by a ruthless Juve.
Here, Spurs have an excellent chance to progress, perhaps better than they realise. A lot of pressure is on the hosts, and City boss Pep Guardiola has come under scrutiny for his lack of progress in this tournament since his Barcelona side won in 2009 and 2011. Last year’s excoriating departure from the tournament at this stage – also against a fellow Premier League side in Liverpool – must play on the Catalan’s mind. Guardiola must put absolute faith in the players who have performed for him on all stages this season – including Raheem Sterling, who is 23/20 with BetVictor to score at any time, and must be a good shout tonight.
So who’s actually going to win?
Predicting the outcome of this contest is a genuinely thankless task. There are good reasons to suspect that City, with their home crowd behind them and with a narrow deficit to overcome, will show why they’re favourites for the Premier League by asserting dominance over their domestic rivals. There is an equally persuasive case to be made that Spurs, by winning and keeping their opponents goalless in the first game, have given themselves the upper hand here and made themselves the smart choice. The night, and the tie, could genuinely go either way.
We’re going to stick our necks out and say that tonight will be the night the quadruple talk ends. Yes, Spurs are yet to prove their ability to come out on top in meaningful battles – but last week’s impressive win and the part played in it by the irrepressible Son both point to a way they can lay some ghosts to rest. For City, the key stat is that they tend to lose the tie when they lose the first leg. That will change, some day, but we have a feeling it’s not going to be tonight. Whatever the final score in this game, we’ll back Spurs to qualify for the next round – on aggregate or away goals – with Betway, at 6/5.
Bets of the Day
Spurs to qualify (Betway, 6/5); Sterling to score (23/20, BetVictor); Both Teams To Score (⅘, Paddy Power)