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Pochettino's big decision ahead of this weekend's standout Premier League tie

The Spurs boss must decide whether to play wantaway star Christian Eriksen against Man City.

Mauricio Pochettino, centre, gives instructions to Tottenham's Christian Eriksen during last week's match against Aston Villa.
Mauricio Pochettino, centre, gives instructions to Tottenham's Christian Eriksen during last week's match against Aston Villa.
Image: Frank Augstein

PEP GUARDIOLA INFAMOUSLY once referred to Tottenham as the “Harry Kane team,” but Spurs have proved on countless occasions that they are far from a one-man side.

Indeed, their key triumphs in last season’s Champions League — securing an aggregate win over Man City away from home and pipping Ajax over two legs in the semi-finals — came in spite of the absence of the then-injured striker.

Kane is undoubtedly a key player for Spurs, with 127 goals in 179 appearances to date in the Premier League alone.

But arguably just as important to their hopes of challenging for the title is Christian Eriksen, despite critics such as Jamie Carragher’s suggestions to the contrary.

The Danish international highlighted his influence last week, after Eriksen was left out of the starting XI. For the first hour, Tottenham struggled to open up a dogged Villa side and found themselves 1-0 down and sorely lacking in creativity until the star was introduced off the bench in the 64th minute.

There were other factors in the turnaround too, namely Kane’s impressive finishing, Jack Grealish’s ill-advised attempt to dribble with the ball just outside his area and Villa’s tendency to drop further back towards their goal.

But it’s certainly no coincidence that Tottenham began getting more shots on goal and creating better chances as soon as Eriksen replaced Harry Winks.  

And that game was far from an anomaly. Per the BBC, since the 2013-14 Premier League season when he joined Spurs, Eriksen has created 550 chances, which is more than any other English-based player — he is comfortably ahead of nearest rivals Mesut Ozil (521), Eden Hazard (520), David Silva (456) and Willian (387). Moreover, the Dane has finished in the top three of the Premier League assists charts in three of the past four seasons.

Before Eriksen arrived, Spurs had only qualified for the Champions League once in its modern format, whereas since, they have reached Europe’s top club competition on three occasions.

Yet during the summer, the Dane acknowledged his desire to move away from the London club, explaining that he was seeking “something new”.

Real Madrid were heavily linked with the star, as were Man United, with the former understood to be the 27-year-old’s preferred destination.

The former Ajax player is expected to move on at the end of the season, when his contract expires, if not before then.

Tottenham, as a consequence, have been put in a difficult position. Do they persist with Eriksen, who has publicly expressed his desire to leave the club, or place faith in an alternative option who is willing to stick around for the long haul? Giovani lo Celso — the 23-year-old that Spurs signed on loan with an option to buy from Real Betis — is widely perceived to be Eriksen’s long-term replacement, but whether he can adapt swiftly to life in the Premier League remains to be seen.

Last week’s first 60 minutes suggested Spurs were simply not ready, as of yet, to dispense of Eriksen’s world-class qualities. While they got away with it against Villa, reigning champions Man City are less likely to fall apart in the dying minutes in the way the newly promoted side did.

Either way, the visitors will be the significant underdogs in Saturday’s late kick off at the Etihad Stadium.

West Ham United v Manchester City - Premier League - London Stadium Pep Guardiola's side won all their home games in the league against big-six opposition last season. Source: Steven Paston

Pep Guardiola has lost just two out of 15 home matches against big-six opposition during his tenure, and won all these games in the league last year, registering an aggregate score of 15-3. By contrast, along with Man United, Spurs had the joint-worst record against top-six sides last season, picking up seven points from a possible 30.

It’s easy to forget given that Tottenham ultimately progressed, but City actually beat Maurico Pochettino’s men 4-3 on the night during that famous Champions League tie, and were denied a last-gasp goal by the narrowest of margins.

In total, Spurs have lost five of their last six matches against City, with the one exception being that crucial 1-0 Champions League win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last April. In total, they have taken four Premier League points from a possible 27 in recent visits to the Etihad Stadium.

There was at least evidence the North London outfit were getting closer to their rivals last season, with a 2-0 aggregate loss over two league games, compared with 7-2 the previous season.

Yet overall, their record is pretty dismal, and in this context, it seems fanciful to think Spurs could afford to leave out a key man in Eriksen, with Jan Vertonghen also a notable absentee last week, and another player who could potentially come into the side despite similar doubts surrounding his future at the club.

Pochettino has certainly not been afraid to drop out-of-favour stars in the past, but with Dele Alli and Ryan Sessegnon injured, and Son Heung-min and Juan Foyth suspended, his team could do with having as many of their best players in the starting XI as possible, particularly given how City looked so electric last week amid a 5-0 opening win over West Ham.

Premier League fixtures

All games kick-off at 3pm unless stated otherwise

Saturday

Arsenal v Burnley (12.30)
Aston Villa v Bournemouth
Norwich v Newcastle
Southampton v Liverpool
Brighton v West Ham
Everton v Watford
Man City v Totttenham (17.30)

Sunday

Sheffield United v Crystal Palace (14.00)
Chelsea v Leicester City (16.30)

Monday

Wolves v Manchester United (20.00)

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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