For Spurs, it’s an opportunity to show whether they can address their biggest weakness – their form away from home against the biggest teams; Mauricio Pochettino has yet to lead a Spurs team to victory away from home against any of last year’s top six.
Here are three key battles that will determine how the game pans out.
NICOLAS OTAMENDI VS HARRY KANE
With Vincent Kompany injured, the job of stopping Harry Kane will fall mostly on the shoulders of Nicolas Otamendi. The Argentine has struggled at times during his City career, but this season he has emerged as one of the side’s best defenders in the absence of the club captain. Kane, of course, has won the Golden Boot the last two seasons and trails only Mohamed Salah in this season’s scoring charts, and can still claim to be the Premier League’s best striker.
But Otamendi is a tough defender who can withstand Kane’s physicality handle. He’ll hold his own in an aerial battle, but that’s not going to be the deciding factor in this duel. The England striker’s calling card is his clever movement, the runs that create space for himself and his team-mates, and the dropping deep to get on the ball early in a Spurs attack. In the latter scenario, Otamendi will likely get help from Fernandinho, but otherwise, it’ll be up to the centre-back to read the game, identify the threat, and stop it.
If Otamendi can keep his composure, and his mistakes down to a minimum, Kane will be in for a tough afternoon. If not, the Englishman could end up tormenting his rival on the day.
RAHEEM STERLING VS DANNY ROSE
If someone had said before the season that at around the half-way mark, the highest-scoring Englishman behind Kane would be Raheem Sterling, nobody would have believed them. But the youngster’s progress this season has been remarkable, and now he’s tied with Wayne Rooney (another surprise) on nine goals, three behind Kane. That’s the size of the task facing Danny Rose on Saturday.
Two years ago or even last season, Rose would have been the safe bet to come out on top in a duel with Sterling. Now, however, it’s not that easy. Sterling’s pace was always a handful, but he’s now added sharp movement and greater game awareness to his repertoire, and Rose could struggle to deal with his young compatriot.
Both players could approach this game with a point to prove. Rose is considered the best English left-back when fully fit and on form, so besting him would be quite the statement for Sterling. On the other hand, Rose is working his way back from injury and has dealt with the controversy of a public dispute with his club’s hierarchy. This is the perfect game for him to put all that behind and justify his well-earned reputation.
LEROY SANE VS SERGE AURIER
Along with Sterling, Leroy Sane has been the other revelation of City’s season. The talent was always there, and has been on display before, but this season the young German looks to be rounding into a complete player – and the exact sort of player who could worry Serge Aurier, who mixes spells of excellent defending with lapses in concentration and bouts of indiscipline. That doesn’t make for the best combination against a player like Sane.
Aurier has had a tough baptism to Premier League life, but has begun to show the quality that encouraged first PSG and then Pochettino to take a gamble on him. This will be his sternest test yet. Sane is one of three players to have more than five goals and five assists in the Premier League this season (the other two are also City players, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne), and he will punish any mistake or error in judgment coming from his defender.
Other duels might be more crucial, but this one could be the most fun.
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