Thrills and spills on the Champions League trail

Posted by Simon Curtis

Sergio Aguero scores for Man City against TottenhamGettyImagesSergio Aguero led the comeback as City beat Tottenham 2-1 in November

Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester City - always a fixture of delicious, attacking intent, pretty diamonds, five men attacks, throwing caution to the wind and the tactics book out of the window - is upon us again and not a moment too soon. In a league where greed is good and yesterday doesn't count for much anymore, this is a fixture that has resonated down through the ages, from the Ballet on Ice in 1967, through Ozzie's dream and the nightmare of Ricky Villa in 81, Uwe and Klinsi in the nineties, the police horse match in '93, the never-to-be-forgotten 4-3 cup comeback in 2004 and countless other football masterpieces in between.

Modern times have brought the two sides together in fixtures that demand greater organisation and more focus. Two seasons on the trot decided Champions League participation for one, then the other. That both were settled by Peter Crouch, a long thin stick of a man from Macclesfield with a family full of Manchester City supporters, only made the whole scene more delightful. Spurs had had their moment, now it was City's turn. 2012-13 sees both sides as realistic top four finishers. Suddenly Tottenham v Manchester City is no longer just a chance to see goals and gaffes, but an opportunity to witness a slice of the very best the Premier League has to offer.

This fixture came during the early days of last season, when the weak London sun was still shining and the trees were casting brownish leaves down onto the streets around White Hart Lane. Spurs, still to awake from their summer slumbers, were taken by surprise and taken apart brick by brick by their sprightly opponents to the tune of 5-1, a true thrashing on their own patch. This was the day everything Edin Dzeko touched turned to gold. He capped a beautiful day with the most vivacious curling stunner of a shot from wide on the right wing with his left foot that most of us present thought City may just have purchased a football God with golden boots. The momentum from those early days of hay-making eventually carried City through to that tear-drenched finale last May. Along the way a desperate, lucky 3-2 win over Spurs at the Etihad in the spring confirmed the fixture's capacity for high action and unstinting drama. By May, City had done it, with buckets of sweat, sublime theatre, near calamity and a barrel load of scrapes. The scoring spree at the Lane ultimately made the difference, as City crawled over the finishing line ahead on goal difference only.

The likelihood of another five hitting the back of the net may be somewhat remote, but Spurs' current form is patchy and poor, whilst City's confidence is growing on the back of a late season surge towards the current league leaders. Goals have never been a stumbling block in this fixture - memories of a Peter Barnes dummy on Pat Jennings in 1977, when a dropped hip and a kinked leg sent the experienced kepper to the floor and gave the City youngster the chance to seal a 5-0 win that confirmed Spurs' descent to the second division flood back. City's attacking was liquid gold that afternoon, as it was in a 5-2 drubbing in the late summer rain in 1994, a game featuring the German totem Jurgen Klinsmann and the Romanians Popescu and Dumitrescu in Ozzie Ardiles remarkably brittle five man attacking trident. Attack they surely did that afternoon and were ripped apart by a City side with enough forward artillery of their own in Beagrie, Walsh, Quinn and Nicky Summerbee.

Six months earlier Spurs had also reached the magic five in a cup tie at Maine Road remembered chiefly for the amount of steaming tactical cones left on the pitch by the police horses of the Manchester Constabulary. Only four passed muster with the referee, however, still two more than a shell-shocked City side could manage. Four was again the magic number at the Lane in 2004 when City completed the cup comeback which has gone down in history as the defining meaning of the term. With a 3-0 half-time deficit, a red card and Anelka off injured, City somehow conjured the courage and momentum to turn the game around in the most unlikely of circumstances. It was a night when the blank faces of disbelief belonged to both home and away supporters as Distin, Bosvelt, Shaun Wright-Phillips and the head of Jon Macken brought City the most unexpected headlines in the morning's sports pages.

History tells us no longer to be surprised by such things when North London meets Manchester. City v Tottenham no longer means a goal drenched side show to the annual United versus Arsenal crunch to secure the destination of the season's prizes. Spurs and City now enter the fray with higher ideals in mind. We should expect the sides to serve up the usual attractive fare in respect to those spectacular predecessors on both sides of the divide, but they do it now with the challenge of Champions League participation temptingly close for both of them. Aesthetes and thrill seekers will find it hard to begrudge either of them that.

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