On May 5, 2010, Peter Crouch scored perhaps the most important goal in Tottenham Hotspur’s recent history, and the ensuing manic celebrations in the visitors’ end of Etihad Stadium that night were justified.

Spurs hadn’t partaken in the European Cup since losing to Benfica at the semi-final stage in 1962, but Crouch’s late header meant they had beaten Manchester City in the race to secure the Premier League’s final Champions League spot.

A year later, after Harry Redknapp’s charges had embarked on a mesmerizing run to the Champions League quarter-finals, during which Crouch netted seven times, the beanpole striker would score perhaps the most important goal in Manchester City‘s recent history, unwittingly deflecting a cross into his own net to hand the home side victory. That goal, 12 months and five days after his famous winner, came from the same player, at the same end of the same stadium, in a match involving the same two teams, and secured City the same achievement of a first European Cup berth since the 1960s.

Since that remarkable quirk of coincidence, the paths of Spurs and City, once rivals for fourth place, have proven rather divergent. The former club’s time has been spent struggling to cement itself as a genuine title challenger, while the latter’s has mostly been taken up by polishing silverware and signing megastars.

Though the Premier League top six is often billed as a mini league of its own, Monday’s meeting at Wembley is indicative of the current imbalance even within that select pool. Pep Guardiola insisted in the build-up that Tottenham are one of five or six teams in the race to win this season’s Premier League title, but he’s wrong, even if Spurs could temporarily leapfrog City with victory. In reality, City’s superiority is striking.


Guardiola’s stars are unbeaten domestically and top of their continental group despite a shock home defeat to Lyon on matchday one. They may not be top of the Premier League heading into Monday’s clash after Liverpool’s win over Cardiff on Saturday, but they see every game as a chance to flex their muscles and to assert their supremacy over English football both stylistically and statistically. Even when key first XI players, such as Kevin De Bruyne, fall to injury, suspension, or fatigue, the conveyor belt of world-class talent keeps rolling.

In contrast, Pochettino’s men, fifth in the Premier League, are having to face the reality that, just halfway through the group stage, their Champions League campaign is dead in the water after PSV’s late equalizer in Eindhoven. Even in the league, Spurs have been far from commanding through nine games despite having lost just twice. They are far from suffering the ignominy of Manchester United, who are nowhere to be seen in the current top six, but they are a team wrought with flaws. This has been shown clearly in the deflating Dutch draw, September’s back-to-back defeats to Watford and Liverpool, and even in some of the matches they have won.

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To compare them to City, in fairness, is to compare a welterweight to a heavyweight. Guardiola’s men are the gold standard, the high-water mark for contemporary English football. They will rock up to Wembley on Monday looking to become the first team from outside London ever to win five straight Premier League games in the English capital. What’s more, De Bruyne could be in line to play his first full 90 minutes since his injury, which may well mean Bernardo Silva, arguably City’s player of the season thus far, does not even start at the national stadium.


Whereas City receive key contributions from all angles on the pitch, Pochettino will likely find himself relying on a particular pair once again. Aside from Eric Dier’s winner over Cardiff at the start of this month, only Harry Kane and Erik Lamela have scored for Spurs in the league since August. The team as a whole has netted a comparatively modest 16 goals through nine games in the Premier League thus far, some 10 fewer than City’s tally, though Dele Alli’s anticipated return should provide a boost.

Pochettino said last week Spurs feel like they have been playing away from home ever since their 118-year residency at White Hart Lane ended in 2017. However, a factor that could level the playing field, so to speak, is the state of the Wembley pitch. The clash with City will take place just 24 hours after the NFL game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles has chewed up the turf and spat it back out. If only Spurs’ new stadium were ready, but any disarray they may suffer on the field is nothing compared to the debacle currently happening off it.

Though it is by no means a David-against-Goliath affair, the reality is that Monday will likely be another display of City’s increasing stranglehold on the league. Liverpool look intent on matching them stride for stride, and Chelsea and Arsenal will have designs on remaining within touching distance, but for this Spurs side, parity is a step too far.