The two giants of the English game endured contrasting fortunes in the FA Cup in midweek, with Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking Man City easing to a 3-1 win at Swansea while Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham lost 5-4 at Everton after extra time.
Spurs came up trumps 2-0 in the first meeting between the clubs earlier in the season, but the visitors find themselves 14 points behind their runaway opponents ahead of this fixture.
Breaking records is bread and butter for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City since the Spaniard took the hotseat back in 2016, and plenty may argue that it is now their title to lose amid an unparalleled winning run.
A routine 3-1 triumph at Swansea City in the FA Cup, with the goals coming from Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, marked City’s 15th win in a row across all competitions – a new record by a top-flight club in English football after Preston North End and Arsenal previously won 14 on the trot.
Ten of City’s 15 victories in this astonishing run have come in the Premier League, and with their title rivals faltering while they continue to go from strength to strength in the top flight, the Etihad faithful could be forgiven for planning ahead for a socially-distanced trophy parade.
However, titles are not won in February, and Guardiola will know that better than any other manager in the game. Even though City are five points clear of closest rivals Manchester United with a game in hand, it only takes a couple of underwhelming results for the season to be turned on its head, and Leicester City could temporarily reduce that gap to four points if they overcome Liverpool in another crunch match a few hours before.
Nevertheless, Guardiola will have every confidence in his ruthless charges to put Tottenham to the sword and extend their seemingly never-ending winning streak, as well as registering their 23rd match unbeaten across all competitions. Whisper it quietly, but an unprecedented quadruple is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility, with City set to take on Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League last 16 on February 24.
Even with Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne – arguably their two most influential players – currently battling to overcome coronavirus and a hamstring problem respectively, City’s remarkable squad depth has come to the fore this term. While their tally of 43 goals scored can be bettered by Man United (49) and Liverpool (44), 14 shipped at the other end is by far the fewest in the division.
The runaway leaders were given a helping by Alisson’s uncharacteristic mistakes in last weekend’s 4-1 triumph at Anfield, but Guardiola is out for blood this season and his side made a true statement of intent against Jurgen Klopp’s faltering team. Mohamed Salah’s penalty prevented City from keeping seven top-flight clean sheets in a row, but that was only the third league goal that Saturday’s hosts have conceded since the start of December.
September’s 5-2 thrashing at the hands of Leicester remains City’s only home defeat in the league this term; since then they have won eight and drawn two in the league on home soil – keeping clean sheets in their last five – and no team in the top flight has managed to prevent Guardiola’s men from finding the back of the net at the Etihad so far in the 2020-21 campaign.
On paper, Tottenham would be blown out of the water by Guardiola’s merciless team, but the Man City treatment room welcomed a couple more crucial players in midweek, and Mourinho is one of a select few managers who knows how to get the better of his adversary.
Mourinho opted to start Harry Kane against West Bromwich Albion, and Tottenham won the game. Mourinho elected to start Kane on the bench against Everton, and his comments about the team being dependent on the England captain were proven right.
Supporters can often be critical of all-Premier League ties in the FA Cup, but there was nothing boring about Wednesday’s fiery encounter at Goodison Park, as a seven-minute flurry of goals from Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson put Everton in control of the tie after Davinson Sanchez’s opener, although Erik Lamela did pull one back before the break.
Mourinho had seen enough after 53 minutes and introduced Kane for Steven Bergwijn, and after Sanchez and Richarlison had doubled their tallies, Kane headed home to take the game to extra time, but their efforts were futile as Bernard potentially revived his Everton career with the winner in the 97th minute.
The Lilywhites still have an EFL Cup final against their weekend opponents Man City to look forward to, but a golden opportunity for silverware in the form of the FA Cup has now passed them by for another season at least, while any aspirations of a Premier League title challenge have slowly faded since the delirium of topping the table after beating Guardiola’s men in November.
Having now lost four of their last five matches across all competitions – the outlier being last weekend’s comfortable win over West Brom – Tottenham have slipped from the summit down to eighth in the table, and a chasm of 14 points separates Saturday’s visitors from their hosts this weekend.
However, Mourinho was determined to focus on the positives of Wednesday’s cup exit, claiming that his team played “amazingly well” with the ball, but seeing his defence breached five times when Tottenham did not have the ball is a real cause for concern before a daunting trip to the Etihad.
Eighth-placed Tottenham must now turn their attention to the top-four battle rather than an audacious bid for title glory, and even though they have kept just one clean sheet in their last 7 Premier League outings, only 22 goals conceded is the second best in the league behind City.
Following their historic 6-1 thrashing of Man United earlier in the campaign, Tottenham will be out to become the first team since Liverpool in 2008-09 to win away at both Manchester clubs in a top-flight season, and Mourinho has taken six points from a possible six against Man City since taking the reins at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Furthermore, the ever-controversial Portuguese could set yet another individual record if his side manage to defy the odds and end Man City’s winning run, as a victory this weekend would see Mourinho become the first manager ever to win three away matches against Guardiola in all competitions – and with three different teams too, having previously managed away wins against him with Real Madrid and Man United in 2012 and 2018 respectively.
A home victory at the Etihad Stadium would further cement City’s position at the top of the pile, and while a Tottenham triumph could throw the cat among the pigeons, the visitors would need to produce a Man City-esque winning run in the coming weeks to propel themselves back into the title conversation.