Three points behind City before today’s afternoon kick-off, a victory for the Manchester club would double the advantage with only seven games of the league campaign to go. Both City and Spurs face difficult run-ins – including a meeting at the City of Manchester Stadium between the two in May – but the London side’s not-so-magnificent last seven games are, on paper, tougher than City’s. Both sides have to travel to Anfield – City in just over a week, Spurs in the penultimate game of the season – but as well as meeting Roberto Mancini’s men, Tottenham face both Arsenal and Chelsea – home and away respectively – as well as resurgent West Bromwich Albion and unpredictable Blackpool.
It is not plain sailing for City, however, with a physically demanding final two games of the season against Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers. But while Spurs face two of the current top three, City’s only meeting with a team above them comes in the FA Cup – the semi-final clash with Manchester United in a fortnight. Together with the points advantage already held by the Blues, the string of games against teams occupying places beneath them in the league should boost their Champions League hopes and dent those of Spurs, although life is rarely that straightforward at Eastlands. If City do not overreach in attempting to peg back third-placed Chelsea – and given Mancini’s pragmatic nature, that seems unlikely – Spurs may be left on the outside of the Champions League looking in next season, barring victory in the competition this year.
Travelling to Spain to meet Real Madrid is a fearsome prospect, despite Jose Mourinho’s nine-year home record ending after a 1-0 defeat by Sporting Gijon yesterday evening. However, with the odds against Spurs finishing fourth for a second consecutive season, beating Madrid and going on to lift the trophy at Wembley may be their best, most likely hope of appearing in next year’s Champions League. As Gijon proved, Madrid are vulnerable and can be kept quiet, particularly without Cristiano Ronaldo, although the absence of Gareth Bale for Spurs counterbalances the missing Portuguese.
Ironically, the battle between City and Spurs – and surely it is between those two after Liverpool’s loss to West Brom yesterday – could once again come down to a head-to-head clash between the two, just as it did last year. On May 10, almost exactly a year since the 1-0 Spurs victory that guaranteed Champions League qualification a year ago, the sides will meet again at Eastlands, and keeping neck-and-neck with the Manchester millionaires must be Spurs’ aim as the long slog to the end of the season continues.