Manchester City prepare for a blockbuster all-English tie with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side, and will be hoping to better their efforts of previous seasons in Europe as Guardiola’s men look to do the unprecedented quadruple.
The word ‘quadruple’ is usually used in passing until a team inevitably falls in one competition due to Christmas or New Year fixture congestion, but this time it is used seriously. City have the best chance of anyone in history to complete the quadruple, which harshly doesn’t count the Community Shield win, as Guardiola pointed out in his pre-match press conference.
After a hectic month or so of relentless action in the Premier League followed by a hard fought FA Cup semi final win at Wembley, the focus turns to the Champions League. The big-eared trophy has escaped City in this golden era thus far, but they are the bookies favourites this time and will look to put the ghosts of Monaco and Liverpool behind them.
In my last 16 preview I predicted an easy City win over Schalke, and although I was right, I didn’t foresee the Etihad dismantling of the German side, where City hit seven goals. Things will be much harder for City this time, perhaps showing the difference in class between the Premier League and Bundesliga that Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl spoke of last week.
Spurs represent a real challenge for City and although the two clubs are domestic rivals, this game is extremely tricky to predict.
The new stadium is an obvious factor – will City cope with a rocking atmosphere, or will they falter under pressure like they did last year? Evidence would suggest that Guardiola has learnt from his shortcomings against Liverpool last season – City should have won at Anfield but for a Riyad Mahrez spot kick that went awfully wrong, and they outplayed Klopp’s side at the Etihad with a measured, controlled game plan.
City will have to take that tactical control to Spurs in the away leg, and accept that a score draw is a great result.
Mauricio Pochettino is one of Guardiola’s biggest rivals, which could represent another subplot to this one. The duo may not have a bitter feud like Guardiola did with Mourinho, but Pochettino has scalped the City boss more than once. He was the first manager to beat Guardiola at the Nou Camp, with a masterclass victory for Espanyol in 2009 – their first win at Barcelona for 27 years. In 2016, Pochettino became the first manager to beat Guardiola in the Premier League, out-thinking City at White Hart Lane in a 2-0 win.
Despite all this, though, City should have enough to beat Spurs. If they can control Spurs’ attacks, and keep possession like we know they can, they can cause all sorts of problems for Pochettino’s side.
Raheem Sterling is in the form of his career, as are Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte, with Kevin De Bruyne finally finding his feet after a season plagued by injury.
Spurs will be a tough match for City, but Guardiola should have learnt from his mistakes of recent years and be able to overcome the team he dubbed ‘the Harry Kane team’.
Prediction: Spurs 1-3 City (agg).
By: Lewis Steele