Two years ago this month, it looked like Mauricio Pochettino had Pep Guardiola’s number.
It was at White Hart Lane that Tottenham ended Manchester City’s 100% start to the season with a 2-0 win achieved without an injured Harry Kane. It was a match and result that signified Guardiola would not be having his own way in his first Premier League campaign.
Tottenham were far more energetic. Of two managers who espouse the pressing game they learned at the feet of Marcelo Bielsa, Pochettino as a player for Newell’s Old Boys, Guardiola as an admirer who travelled to Argentina to consult his coaching idol, Pochettino looked far better equipped for the Premier League.
But in football, time and money can change everything. Though the gap between them is currently two points, there is a huge gulf in the resources that Guardiola can call upon as compared to Pochettino.
There are ten survivors of that Tottenham starting team who remain at the club from that initial meeting, with the only departure being Kyle Walker, sold to City for £50m.
Guardiola has been able to shed four of his team – Pablo Zabaleta, Aleks Kolarov, Fernando and Jesus Navas – all of them members of the over-30s club, and Ederson is now goalkeeper instead of Claudio Bravo. The full-backs, Zabaleta and Kolarov, were replaced by an expenditure on Walker and Benjamin Mendy of £100m, while Navas been replaced by the likes of Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez.
When Guardiola this week suggested his team is probably short of the quality required to win the Champions League, he was surely being coy.
With neither of Real Madrid nor Barcelona currently firing, Bayern Munich struggling under new boss Niko Kovac, Atletico Madrid being torn asunder by Borussia Dortmund, that leaves perhaps just Juventus as a team firing on similar cylinders to City.
The stattos suggest the underlying data show that City are even better than last season, and their 3-0 win at Shakhtar Donetsk arrived at a canter, with them creating a bewildering amount of chances in the first half in which they won the game.
When Kevin de Bruyne tired after his first start since returning from injury, on came Bernardo Silva, who scored within a minute.
At £60m, Mahrez, who missed quite a few of those chances, was the sole arrival of the summer.
Aymeric Laporte got on the scoresheet, having only joined in January for £57m. In 2018, an expenditure approaching £120m has been made on the team that was already sweeping everything before them.
For Spurs, meanwhile, only Lucas Moura for a relatively cut-price £25m, has been an addition to training at the club’s Enfield set-up; the summer was barren, with the club’s executive class instead having to concentrate on the spiralling costs of the now very unfashionably late Tottenham Stadium.
That project, for which the final pricing is expected to stray well beyond a billion pounds, has prevented Pochettino being able to compete with a manager with whom his rivalry extends back to the days when he was a tough-tackling, no nonsense Espanyol defender and Guardiola was the midfield controller for Barcelona.
The quality of Pochettino’s squad is suggested by Tottenham having made their best ever start to a Premier League season, but their woes in the Champions League also point to a group frayed by fatigue.
The 12 players sent to the World Cup played a collective 5202 minutes, with only City coming close of Premier League clubs on 4918, but spread over 15 players.
Wear and tear has affected a thin squad with Dele Alli, Danny Rose and Jan Verthongen currently in the sick bay, and Harry Kane has been creaking into form.
During Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with PSV, a game that should have been out of sight, Hugo Lloris was red-carded, another incident to betray the goalkeeper and captain’s fragile confidence.
Lloris was a World Cup winner, but must be haunted by the calamitous error that gifted Croatia their second goal in the final, and has played like someone with something on his mind.
Guardiola, while paying due deference to his coaching genius, which has now adapted fully to the rigours of English football, is far better equipped to deal with the tumult of fixtures that descend in the weeks when autumn turns to winter.
He has the personnel to cope with the losses of players like Vincent Kompany, De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus, while Tottenham struggle to compete on two fronts.
What seemed as if it could become a serious, dynastic rivalry no longer looks like much of a contest; City won 4-1 and 3-1 in the matches last season.
It remains tempting to consider how close Pochettino might get to Guardiola if the financial playing field were more level.