Manchester City visit Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, and you would forgive the home faithful at White Hart Lane for fearing that the worst case of déjà vu is happening all over again.
Three times in recent seasons Tottenham have endured a disastrous finish to the season that has cost them Champions League qualification, and even if those collapses took place under the stewardship of Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp (twice), it looks like Andre Villas-Boas is powerless to stop history repeating itself.
With painful familiarity, Tottenham were seven points clear of north London rivals Arsenal just weeks ago: if the Gunners were to beat Fulham on Saturday, Spurs will take to the pitch against City five points behind and all of a sudden an increasingly distant third in the three-horse top-four race.
A run of just one win in the last seven in all competitions, but more fatally, one win in four Premier League games, has left Villas-Boas with plenty to ponder.
It was only in the aftermath of Tottenham’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal at the start of March that the former Chelsea boss spoke of the ‘negative spiral’ the Gunners were in and how his side were well equipped to deal with ‘the ghosts of the past’.
But all of a sudden, Spurs doubt themselves and when this is the case, with the pressure on, the last thing you need is a visit fromm the champions.
Okay, so City are about to become the newly-dethroned champions, and that could even come as early as Monday if they lose on Sunday and Manchester United beat Aston Villa, but I think that Roberto Mancini can ensure the title race goes on for at least a further week by putting a huge dent in Spurs’ top-four hopes.
City are 13/10 to do that, with the draw at 23/10 and Tottenham a 2/1 chance and I think that a revitalised Citizens team look well equipped to take advantage of a stuttering Spurs.
Ten days’ rest will have done tired Spurs the world of good – City have played twice since they were last in action – but it may not have been enough time to get Gareth Bale back firing on all cylinders, even if he is passed fit to play.
Injured against Basel in the Europa League, at the time of writing Villas-Boas is optimistic the Welshman will play on Sunday, but if he fails to make the starting XI, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you Tottenham won’t be the same team – they haven’t won a game in which he hasn’t scored since New Year’s Day.
Out of form and under great psychological strain, they must be fearing the visit of City. It is far too little, too late to make any difference to the title race (for which Mancini should be embarrassed) but there is no doubt that the champions are playing well, at last.
Since a dreadful defeat at Southampton, City have won eight of their nine matches in all competitions, with victories over Chelsea (twice) and Manchester United in that sequence, scoring 21 goals at the same time.
And Tottenham’s creaky defence might not be able to cope. Villas-Boas’ side have conceded 15 goals in their last seven games and have kept just one clean sheet in their last 13 matches.
Spurs haven’t been that great at home, either. With just three clean sheets in their 16 matches at the Lane, West Brom, Norwich, Wigan, Chelsea, Stoke, Fulham and Everton have all left north London with at least a point and as we know, City are far better than all of those sides.
You might argue that Mancini’s men have nothing to play for, but professional pride dictates they don’t want Manchester United to win the title as early as April 22nd.
So with motivation still apparent, in-form City can make the most of a nervy and out-of-sorts Spurs team that suddenly has everything to lose, and should be backed at 13/10 to do so.