Few could have predicted the significance of Tottenham’s Sunday lunchtime visit to Manchester City following the return fixture on August 28. Buoyed by a blistering four-goal haul on the opening day against Swansea and a victory over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium, it was a match which confirmed a seismic shift in style and philosophy within the club. Gone was the caution of the 4-2-3-1 which characterised Roberto Mancini’s first full season in charge. In its place stood a swashbuckling, ruthless destroyer of the opposition; a team with the temerity to travel to the capital and hit five past one of the strongest Spurs teams in memory.
Blanchflower’s romantic rhetoric has inspired many Spurs teams – some more successful than others – over the years. However, that afternoon it was Mancini’s men who truly grasped its meaning. Tottenham – who only months before had been terrifying both Milanese giants in the Champions League – cowered up against the onslaught of attacks. City scored five – Edin Dzeko alone grabbing a regal quartet. In truth, they could have hit double that amount.
Spurs on the other hand looked fragile; their midfield strangely insipid, their defence uncharacteristically shambolic. Although the breathtaking, expansive football of their victors stole the headlines, there was nevertheless concern at how so much space had been conceded in midfield and how utterly moribund their attacking options had been. Spurs, we worried, were in decline.
Some decline that turned out to be. Two shrewd signings – and one player committing his short-term future – within a week transformed the club. With Scott Parker adding ferocious work-rate and defensive discipline alongside a rejuvenated Luka Modric, Harry Redknapp had suddenly set upon a central midfield which melded steel and silk in equal measure. Perhaps just as crucially, Emmanuel Adebayor was plundered from their most recent victors. Aghast at the Togolese’s exorbitant wages and wary of his temperament, Mancini permitted him to join the White Hart Lane club on a season-long loan.
Suddenly the Lilywhites had a target – quick, mobile, athletic – as a focal point for their attack. They too grasped the significance of Blanchflower’s words and began playing a futuristic brand of football. No side in the league passes the ball with such exhilarating speed. Possession gained high up the pitch, their counter-attacks puncture defences with speed and dexterity. In clawing the yawning chasm evidenced between the two teams five months ago to a mere five points, they were even christened “the best team in the country” by Sir Alex Ferguson.
And in that one soundbite, Spurs were transported from inexperienced outsiders to the real thing. Sunday’s fixture therefore comes with a far more meaningful context than revenge. It is a bona-fide top-of-the-league six-pointer. With both sides committed to attacking with wit, invention and scarcely believable tempo – football which would have delighted the purist in Blanchflower – it promises to be a classic. Nil-nil it is, then.
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