Spurs get the ball rolling … but only after the players take a knee of love and solidarity. There’s no room for racism. Black lives matter.
Before kick-off, a moment of applause in memory of the great Ray Clemence, who spent seven years in the Tottenham goal during the 1980s.
The teams are on the pitch. Spurs in their lilywhite, City in second-choice black. We’ll be off in a couple of minutes. “Of course real football fans only care about the players on the pitch, all this Jose v Pep drama is media-generated melodrama. Who’s kidding who? This is the best kind of water cooler gossip and we all love it so!” Mary Waltz can speak for me. Meanwhile Tony Barr wonders if Pep has fallen for a classic Mourinho double bluff. “Surely, master of mind games that he is, Jose stated that Sterling would start knowing this would force Pep to bench him, thus weakening City’s attack? Or did you already get to that? I’m finding it hard to keep track.” He’s got you exactly where he wants you.
Pep isn’t in the mood to take any nonsense, and there’s an edge to his pre-match interview. “Sterling trained one day in the last week, but he has special physicality. It’s not perfect-perfect. It is important Aguero is back. All clubs need their players, and Sergio … what can I say as a striker? He is amazing. [Cracks huge face-covering grin] Team is perfect, so good! We score 100 in the last two seasons. Team is so good, we are going to try to do it again! Go out there, let them play, and try to do their best.” He sounds really up for this one. A fair bit of needle in the air tonight. Rise above it if you like, but there’s good old-fashioned fun to be had scrabbling around down here.
Jose talks to Sky with that twinkle in his eye. “Progress is a process. An isolated match doesn’t tell us much. But of course this is an important match against a team for the last ten years is always champion or trying to be champion. So it is going to be very difficult. We are not as ready as Sterling because he was resting the whole week, but we are fine. We are ready for the game. Bale was with his international team, playing 90 minutes plus 75, which at this moment for him in his evolution is quite a lot. Bergwijn was with us recovering and training. We have a lot of matches to play.” A couple of early salvoes there. The jibe about Sterling keeps that particular plate spinning, but there’s also the passive-aggressive reference to City being a championship-chasing team for the last decade, i.e. long before Pep. You know exactly which buttons he’s attempting to press here. A maestro of the form.
Pre-match yada-yada. “What do you think the chances are that Pep isn’t starting Sterling just so he can stick it to Jose who insisted that he ‘knew’ Sterling would start?” asks a man who is clearly going to answer his own question. JR in Illinois replies: “I would put my guess at right around 100%.” JR would also like to illustrate his point via the medium of Seinfeld:
Tottenham make two changes to the XI named for the last-gasp victory at West Bromwich Albion. They’re without Matt Doherty, who has tested positive for coronavirus, while Gareth Bale drops to the bench. Serge Aurier and Steven Bergwijn take their places.
Manchester City also make two changes, from the side that drew 1-1 with Liverpool. Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva are in; Ilkay Gundogan and the much-discussed Raheem Sterling are benched. Sergio Aguero is back from injury and named as a sub, but Fernandinho is still out.
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Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Aurier, Alderweireld, Dier, Reguilon, Sissoko, Hojbjerg, Bergwijn, Ndombele, Son, Kane.
Subs: Bale, Hart, Rodon, Lo Celso, Lucas Moura, Davies, Vinicius.
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Joao Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Torres.
Subs: Stones, Sterling, Gundogan, Aguero, Steffen, Foden, Garcia.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
One of the best things about the 2020-21 Great League of Unpredictability is the sheer amount of summit meetings it’s throwing up. Before the international break we had Manchester City versus Liverpool. Tomorrow evening Liverpool take on Leicester City; the day after that, Wolves play Saints. And right now we have Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester City, which on its own terms is a monster match, but is even more combustible when you throw in Jose and Pep. This one really is on!
Good luck calling it. Had they not shipped those three late dramatic goals against West Ham, Spurs would be on a five-match Premier League winning streak. As it is, they’ve taken 13 points from the last 15 and will go top with another win here today. They’ve beaten City on their last two visits to N17, 2-0 in the league back in February, 1-0 in the Champions League the previous April. The way Son Heung-min and Harry Kane are carrying on, a hat-trick of victories is far from beyond them.
City are showing signs of rising from their early-season slumber. They’ve won three of their last four matches in all competitions, and would have won the other had Kevin De Bruyne not shanked a penalty wide in very uncharacteristic style. The mood is high in the camp, with Guardiola signing a new deal to cast aside all the uncertainty, and Ferran Torres walking on air after scoring a hat-trick against Germany.
With Spurs hoping to record a statement victory, and City trying to get themselves right back in the thick of the title race, this is set up perfectly. An evening of rich entertainment stretches out ahead of us. It’s on!
Kick off: 5.30pm GMT.
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