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Pep Guardiola leads his Manchester City charges to White Hart Lane today to face Tottenham Hotspur on the back of the end of their 10-match winning run, which was dented by Celtic with that thrilling 3-3 draw in the Champions League in midweek.
That notwithstanding, Guardiola remains unbeaten since taking charge at the Etihad in the summer, and would be hoping to return to winning ways, even though Mauricio Pochettino would have other ideas.
It is interesting to note that, beyond the game being a clash between the first and third placed teams in the Premier League, there is so much more riding on this one, not least, both managers.
Pochettino and Guardiola are managers of the same generation, and it is also interesting to note that Pochettino’s first ever game as a manager came against Guardiola.
In January of 2009, Pochettino, then 37, had just be appointed manager of relegation-threatened Espanyol and his first game in charge was the very small task of coming up against a Barcelona side packed with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, in a Copa Del Rey fixture.
He said of that encounter: “My first training session had been on the afternoon before the game and then, we trained on the morning of it
“It was two training sessions in less than 12 hours. I said to the players that we needed to play with high pressing and one-versus-one at the back. Their eyes were like this! They thought it was impossible against Barcelona but I said: ‘No, it is not impossible.’”
The Argentine went on lead his Espanyol side to a 0-0 draw against Barca in that game, and that was his introduction into management.
His Espanyol side lost 3-2 in the return fixture but when he took his team back to the Camp Nou in La Liga the following month, still searching for his first win, they would go on to win 2-1 and it is pertinent to note that Espanyol have not beaten Barcelona ever since.
So, will Pochettino get another one over Guardiola, or would the reverse be the case when they meet for the first time in the Premier League? Will Spurs continue their most recent dominance over City?
Speaking ahead of the game, the former Argentina international however admitted that they are little behind City at the moment.
“Maybe we are a little behind them but our expectation in the long term is to compete with all the big clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool,” Pochettino said.
“It is difficult to compare Tottenham and Manchester City. You look at their budget, the salaries they pay and compare it with Tottenham, and it is very clear… we have very different projects.”
For Guardiola, he couldn’t hide his admiration for his opposite number today, and the work he has done at White Hart Lane.
He said: “I think he’s one of the best managers in the world – I enjoy watching Tottenham.
“He’s doing an amazing job… the way they play I like a lot – they’re aggressive and have a lot of quality.”
But despite the setback in the Champions League, Guardiola’s men remain top of the Premier League with maximum points from six games, while Spurs are also unbeaten this term in the league, and will usurp Liverpool in second place if they win today. It is a game involving the two unbeaten sides in the Premier League this season.
Tottenham won both of last season’s Premier League meetings with Manchester City, having lost eight of their previous nine against them, but Guardiola was yet to arrive at the Etihad at the time.
And considering how both managers set up their teams, it is almost a no-brainer that this fixture will produce goals and the stats suggest as much, as there have been 22 goals scored in the last five Premier League encounters between both sides at White Hart Lane (nine for Spurs, 13 for City).
The good news for Spurs is, the trio of Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Danny Rose could be available, while Moussa Sissoko, who suffered a head injury last weekend, may also feature, but Harry Kane is still sidelined.
For City, Kevin De Bruyne is still out injured, so also are Vincent Kompany and Fabian Delph, but John Stones is likely to return.