Grand ambitions collide on Wednesday when Tottenham Hotspur seek a definitive end to quadruple, or “quintuple” in manager Pep Guardiola’s estimations, talk for hosts Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals.
The London outfit travel 200 miles north emboldened by last week’s 1-0 victory, earned via South Korea forward Son Heung-min’s nimble feet and Ederson’s questionable goalkeeping. This picture, however, could have been entirely different had Argentina striker Sergio Aguero not seen a timid 12th-minute penalty saved by grateful France No1 Hugo Lloris.
For City to still experience historic success come season’s end, they must snap a damaging run of five-successive European losses against English opposition. Spurs, in contrast, have to force home this advantage in the absence of stricken talisman Harry Kane and avoid a third-consecutive reversal at Etihad Stadium:
Here are the talking points as both aim to make the semis for just a second time:
DARE TO DREAM
A tie far from decided awaits this midweek.
Spurs will kick-off safe in the knowledge that if they avoid defeat, progression is theirs. Yet Mauricio Pochettino’s charges have lost six of their last seven away matches, in all competitions, and were hammered 4-1 by their imminent opponents the last time they strode out in east Manchester.
They will also have to manage the psychological trauma of being without skipper Kane because of a rolled ankle caused when challenging England team-mate Fabian Delph last Tuesday.
The 4-0 weekend thumping of relegated Huddersfield Town moved their 2018/19 win percentage up to 70 without him from 10 matches, an intriguing improvement on the 62 per cent recorded with Kane from 39 games.
They’ve also won five of their last six Champions League outings, keeping clean sheets in the previous three.
City’s pursuit of untrammelled success has not been in such peril since an early 2-0 lead was handed to the Championship’s Swansea City during last month’s sodden FA Cup quarter-final.
Raw memories of a 5-1 aggregate humbling by Liverpool at this stage in 2017/18 could provide further trepidation.
Guardiola’s troops, however, have won 24 of 26 home matches this term – drawing none.
They’ve also scored at least two goals on seven of the last eight times they’ve welcomed Spurs to the Etihad.
Centre-back John Stones labelled this challenge on four fronts – of which, likely, defining Premier League meetings with Spurs and Manchester United immediately follow – “the dream” during Tuesday’s pre-match press conference.
Surge past Spurs and it will take another significant step towards becoming reality.
Guardiola’s reputation as a footballing savant ensures scrutiny is rare.
His approach at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, however, merited introspection. Uncharacteristic caution and a questionable decision to start Algeria Riyad Mahrez, among five changes, contrived to produce an unconvincing performance.
The Champions League has generated brutal experiences for Guardiola since 2010/11’s triumph with Barcelona; 2013/14’s 4-0 semi-final home reversal to Real Madrid, Barca’s imposing 5-3 aggregate semi triumph in 2014/15, agonising away goals elimination by Atletico Madrid at the same stage in 2015/16, Monaco’s comeback from a 5-3 round-of-16 first-leg loss in 2016//17 and 2017/18’s aforementioned hammering by Liverpool.
He cannot countenance another indignity being registered in 2018/19.
PEP 💬 I know how focused the players are. The desire to get to the semi-finals. Will it be enough? I don't know.— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 16, 2019
I got to the final once with one shot on target, and once I had 33 shots on target and didn't. Football is that game.
Seeing a Spurs player on the ball will be a rarer sight than a dry day in Manchester.
City have averaged 64.2-per-cent possession in the Premier League this season, while lost 1-0 in north London last week recording 59 per cent.
Tottenham supremo Pochettino, however, has the perfect weapons to make this characteristic work against the hosts.
Lengthy injury to Kane has left a spot vacant in Spurs’ attack. Lucas Moura filled it with aplomb against Huddersfield, netting a hat-trick.
The Brazilian forward’s searing pace, allied with Son’s, makes the counter-attack a dangerous proposition.
Even one away goal could have an enormous influence on a tie of great significance.
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