Perhaps the last opposition Manchester City would want to face right now is Tottenham.
Having been pressed into submission by Liverpool to exit the Champions League either side of being rope-a-doped by Manchester United, London’s best team, rippling with form and goals are a daunting prospect.
The last English team to beat Tottenham were City themselves, a 4-1 win on December 16 that completed the set over fellow top-six clubs and marked out Pep Guardiola’s team as unstoppable.
That was then, this is now, and should Tottenham prevail at the fortress that Wembley has become for them, City will have suffered a fourth successive defeat. A severe wobble would be in session.
With United playing hopeless, feckless and doomed West Brom on Sunday and Bournemouth on Wednesday, the gap at the top could be whittled to seven points.
Is a title race on? Almost certainly not, but City do not want to sheepishly crawl over the line. That brings pressure on Saturday evening, just at a time they have begun to look, frankly, knackered.
Tottenham, well-rested, their own Champions League adventure having ended in the previous round, will bring a wash of energy that City could struggle to cope with.
Harry Kane is a man in a hurry, judging by that much-derided legal pursuit of the goal he claimed to score in last week’s 2-1 win at Stoke and nobody else saw. But it is the player who Kane took that goal from who Manchester City might be most concerned with.
Christian Eriksen would not look out of place in Guardiola’s champions-elect team.
In recent weeks and in Kane’s absence, he has been in the type of form with which Kevin de Bruyne devastated the Premier League during the first half of the season, the Dane scoring four goals in his last three matches, even allowing for Kane’s “ghost goal”.
Despite that deduction, his 12 strikes so far already matches his best season as a Tottenham player and Eriksen’s influence extends far beyond that, from his ability to dictate the tempo of attacks to developing leadership qualities. Previously, Eriksen was among the quieter players within Mauricio Pochettino’s squad, but now takes on a visible responsibility as a key part of the collective. The word from his agent this week is that Kane’s carpetbagging is “no issue”.
That is paired with a rare individual talent. As Irishmen know after November’s single-handed destruction of their national team in the World Cup play-offs, give Eriksen a yard and he will take a country mile. In Dublin’s 5-1 second leg demolition job, Ireland’s defence was taken to school by Eriksen’s ignition of Danish dynamite.
The likes of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi, while of a purportedly higher class than, say, Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark, have looked leggy, red-eyed and tetchy of late as City’s ambitions have been re-calibrated and now have to face Spurs’ ever interchanging attacking unit. Kane, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Eriksen should make for a troubling evening for a team that appears to have forgotten how to strangle games like they used to.
Tottenham’s playmaker is the one-time teenage sensation who became a slow-burning success in maturity.
He was the youngest player at the 2010 World Cup, hailed as potentially a next Michael Laudrup by Johan Cruyff and a graduate of Ajax Amsterdam’s keen links with Scandinavia. And yet in 2013, Tottenham picked him up for a fee of a mere £11m.
The continent’s major clubs had scouted him, but Spain and Germany’s giants did not come to call and neither did England’s leading lights of the time.
The thought was that Eriksen’s talents were not sufficiently matched by the competitiveness and physical qualities required to succeed on the grandest stages, but steady progress at Spurs and particularly since Pochettino arrived in 2014 has completely changed opinion. Eriksen is now rightfully recognised as one of the best players in English football.
Tottenham bought Eriksen from the €100.8 million they had trousered for Gareth Bale, a summer spree recalled for a wastefulness that was highly uncharacteristic of club chairman Daniel Levy. Beyond Erik Lamela, bought for an eye-watering £30m but who has at least made a contribution for Mauricio Pochettino, the rest of the outlay brought in misfits.
Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Paulinho and Nacer Chadli is a roll call of embarrassment, however Eriksen has gone significant distance to saving Levy from embarrassment.
These days, as he told the Independent’s Jack Pitt-Brooke last month, the 26-year-old wants to be “as influential as possible, as involved as possible”, and if Guardiola has been able to unscramble himself since Tuesday, it is Eriksen he must work on an answer to.