Manchester City v Tottenham, Premier League, May 5, 2010
Since both these sides claimed three points respectively on Saturday afternoon, the hype surrounding this encounter has gone into overdrive. Almost immediately it was labeled the â€œ60 million pound matchâ€ although by the time this game gets underway that number may well have increased.
What is effectively a Champions League play-off has also been described as the most important match in Manchester Cityâ€™s history. Whilst some have claimed that the pressure is even greater on the visitors as the blue side of Manchester know they will make the premier competition in Europe eventually, whilst Spurs have previous for fluffing their lines at this stage of the season, as they did under Martin Jol four years ago.
The maths is pretty simple. Spurs come into the penultimate game of the season for both sides, one point ahead of City in the much coveted fourth place. Harry Redknappâ€™s side travel to Burnley on the final day whilst West Ham welcome Roberto Manciniâ€™s boys this coming Sunday.
A win for Spurs and they have secured their spot in next seasonâ€™s Champions League qualification rounds whilst a draw leaves them firmly in the driving seat. A victory for City would almost certainly see â€œthe projectâ€ mature to the stage that they can secure the biggest names in world football and would likely see Roberto Mancini remain at Eastlands at least for another season.
Manchester City looked in fine fettle on Saturday in their comeback win over Aston Villa to knock the Birmingham side out of contention for fourth. After scoring 14 goals in three games, their challenge had taken a knock by only picking up a point from the derby with Manchester United and what was in retrospect probably a winnable game at Arsenal.
Adam Johnson was the catalyst of the two quick goals late in the first half which turned the game against Villa and the former Middlesbrough winger was an excellent acquisition in January. Alongside Craig Bellamy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez it is difficult to see Spurs keeping a clean sheet on Wednesday night.
Patrick Vieira was also praised for his display on the weekend and manager Roberto Mancini has called for another big performance from the lanky Frenchman against the side he used to torment in north London derbies. With the same team expected to be selected by the dapper Italian, the main concern centers around on-loan keeper Marton Fulop who had some jittery moments and should probably have done better for John Carewâ€™s opener.
Harry Redknapp has a few selection issues. Chief amongst these is Heurelho Gomes who pulled up with a groin injury in the final minutes of the 1-0 win over Bolton. With it being such an important game the Brazilian will likely start, especially as Ben Alnwick, the current Spurs reserve failed to prove himself in the memorable Carling Cup semi-final second leg with Burnley last season.
Ledley King is unlikely to be able to play two games in four days so Sebastien Bassong should come in. On their most recent trip to Manchester, Redknapp moved Benoit Assou-Ekotto to right back to accommodate Wilson Palacios, this time he is more likely to drop David Bentley to ensure the Honduran provides some physical presence in the middle. This means Luka Modric will be moved to the right, Gareth Bale on the left of midfield and Younes Kaboul, one of Tottenhamâ€™s best performers against the Trotters, will be tasked with stopping the raids of Craig Bellamy at right back.
Spurs only need a draw to all but ensure they secure fourth but they simply donâ€™t have the side to keep it tight a la Inter Milan at the Nou Camp. They may also be encouraged by the fact they can secure Champions League qualification with a win at Eastlands and a comprehensive 3-0 home win over City earlier this season.
The home side though have the home advantage and a fervent crowd will be willing them on to finally secure league success for Manchester’s second biggest club. It is no exaggeration to say that six points in their remaining games could change the whole face of the club and will mean they can attract top players (a bid for the likes of Kaka will not be laughed at by one and all) and the best managers (Jose Mourinho or Guus Hiddink).
It could be a hugely memorable game and with so much riding on it, one moment of brilliance or a shocking mistake could shape the whole season for either club. The home side start as slight favourites and have the fire power to take the decisive step of a tumultuous race for fourth.
101gg predicts: Manchester City 3 â€“ Spurs 2