Last year, almost a full 12 months to the very date, Manchester City, at that point Champions League favourites, faced an away day against the team ranked third in the Premier League table. Pep Guardiola could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu upon walking into Tottenham Hotspur’s shimmering new stadium on Tuesday night. He and his players have been here before.
As we know, Liverpool blew City away in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League, making a run all the way to the Kiev final. Not only that, the victory over City proved a crossroads in the Reds’ development under Jurgen Klopp. Since then, Liverpool have become a team close to City’s equal and their progress can be traced back to that night at Anfield almost a year ago to the day.
Tuesday’s clash presents Spurs with a similar junction. On their day, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are a match for anyone. The Argentinian has moulded a side that can compete at the top level of the sport, but remains some way off challenging for major honours. Pochettino, like Klopp, is frequently reminded that he has yet to get his hands on a piece of silverware.
Just like Liverpool a year ago, though, the North London outfit have momentum on their side. Kevin de Bruyne may dispute the notion that the opening of Spurs’ new stadium will give them an edge for this week’s Champions League quarter-final first leg, but an electric atmosphere will undeniably push Pochettino’s men forward in a way the sanitised Wembley crowd never could.
Liverpool used the final few weeks and months of the 2017/18 campaign as preparation for this season. Spurs must aim to do the same thing. With the uncertainty of playing indefinitely at Wembley now behind them and full focus now back on footballing matters, next season should be about making that final step from pretenders to contenders. Victory over City on Tuesday, and in the tie as a whole, would provide a platform not just to reach the Champions League semi-finals, but to achieve even bigger and better things.
Of course, Spurs must do much more than just beat Man City to follow the path Liverpool have set for them over the past year. The Anfield club recognised where holes in their team existed – in defence and in goals, primarily – and spent big in the transfer market to plug them. Spurs, now laden with close to £1 billion of debt due to the construction of their new stadium, might not be able to do that.
It seems, however, that they have been able to persuade Pochettino to stay at least one more season, with a new contract for the Argentinian thought to be in the offing. Getting Pochettino to put pen to paper on that deal would be the biggest signing Spurs could possibly make this summer and would just give them even more momentum ahead of the 2019/20 season.
‘I think it’s going to be a very tough game,” Pochettino said ahead of Tuesday’s match, somewhat stating the obvious. “City are one of the best teams in Europe, and in England. We’ll start the game very aggressively. We want to be aggressive. We know that very well. We’ve prepared for the games. We’ve been talking about the different situations that can happen from the beginning. We want to start with a high tempo.”
That’s what Liverpool did in the home leg of their Champions League quarter-final last season, pummelling City into submission in the first 30 minutes, opening up a three-goal advantage that ultimately proved unassailable. Such an emphatic start might be beyond Spurs, but the precedent has been set for them. Can they now follow it?