Which Man City will show up against Spurs?

Posted by David Mooney



The weekend we have all been waiting for is finally here. After what's felt like an eternity of internationals with no domestic action for Premier League sides, the big one is back. Yes, folks, "Doctor Who" will be returning to our screens Saturday evening in a 50th anniversary adventure. Oh -- and there's some other lot over at the Etihad on Sunday, too.

The thing is, I wasn't going to mention "Doctor Who" in this preview of Manchester City's home game with Tottenham, but once I started thinking about this, all I could think of was "Doctor Who/Manchester City puns. Daleksandar Kolarov, Cybermanuel Pellegrini or Pablo ZabaleTARDIS, for instance.

But then it struck me that the last series of "Doctor Who" very much mirrors this current Manchester City season. The fans stick by it in the hope that it's just going through a bit of a blip; there have been some utterly sublime moments (though some weeks haven't been very impressive), while the direction in which the season is going seems to be a bit hit-and-miss, with the overall quality hitting peaks and troughs.

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The thing is, this weekend's game is such a difficult one to read. Historically, matches against Tottenham are difficult for City. To give some idea, in the Premier League era, the Blues have beaten Spurs seven times from a possible 32 games -- and four of those victories came under Roberto Mancini, from May 2011 onward.

Before then, no matter what happened in the match, it was usually nailed on that the north London club would win by two goals to one. Who can forget that goal in 2007-08, which came from a free kick that wasn't, had two offside calls in the buildup and was knocked past Andreas Isaksson with a flailing arm? Sometimes you just know it's not your day.

That said, however, Tottenham haven't won at the Etihad in their previous three visits -- losing them all by the odd goal. Peter Crouch cutely netted an own goal in 2010-11 to seal it; Mario Balotelli coolly slotted home a penalty with about 9 seconds left on the clock in 2011-12; and Edin Dzeko came off the bench to pinch the points in the 88th minute last season.

With City being the highest scorers at home in the Premier League this season, and only two teams in the division (Crystal Palace and Sunderland) having scored less than Tottenham in total, it all seems to be pointing toward a win for the hosts. But that's a dangerous train of thought.

Spurs haven't gone three league games in a row without scoring since January 2009, so Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to avoid breaking that record -- though they have needed the most shots per goal in the Premier League this season. On top of that, the Blues have scored almost three times as many goals from inside the box and five times as many out of the box than their visitors.

But where City have been a defensive omnishambles this season, Tottenham are second only to Southampton in the number of goals they've conceded. While they may not score many, they don't let too many in, either -- though I doubt they'll be relishing the challenge of facing a Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo partnership, which has been behind eight goals in the past five games.

Speaking in his Friday news conference, City boss Manuel Pellegrini was still keeping his cards close to his vest about whether Joe Hart or Costel Pantilimon will start as keeper. Hart played well for England against Germany on Tuesday evening, while Pantilimon has done little to warrant being dropped -- though some would argue that the recent run of games made the manager's decision marginally easier.

The most common scoreline between these sides in the Premier League is 2-1 (seen on 10 occasions, and at one point, seven times in a row between 2006 and 2009) -- though as for which side will win, it's going to be tight. It's very much about which Manchester City turns up; the signs are good if we look at home performances so far this campaign.

Six points off the top of the league and with a form book as predictable as a journey through the time vortex, City really need to get some consistency into their results.

On Saturday, we'll find out if this is where "Doctor Who" rediscovers its form. On Sunday, we'll find out the same for Manchester City.

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