Travelling to face a domestic rival in front of a raucous home crowd in a Champions League quarter-final.
Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have seen this before and it wasn’t pretty.
Three goals in 19 minutes of Anfield carnage last season gave Liverpool a 3-0 lead over City and a vice-like grip on the tie that they would not relinquish.
A year on and Guardiola’s side are locked in a Premier League title battle with the Reds, have won the EFL Cup and secured an FA Cup final place with victory over Brighton and Hove Albion at the weekend.
All the evidence suggests continued development or, at the very least, emphatic consolidation of their 2017-18 100-point haul in the top flight. Even with City stretching themselves on all fronts, surely lightning cannot strike twice?
Not ready to win the Champions League
Kevin De Bruyne has insisted the Liverpool defeat meant “nothing” when considering what awaits City at an expectant Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday – “Different team, different year, different players,” said the Belgium midfielder – but the spectre of rapid collapses in games is something that seems to play on Guardiola’s mind.
After watching his team win 3-2 from 2-1 and a man down at Schalke in the previous round, the former Barcelona boss could not avert his gaze from the bigger picture.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 20, 2019
“We’re not ready to fight for the Champions League, but the result is good,” he said.
“We gifted the goals. If that happens in another stage… We are a nice team to watch, but we don’t know how far we’ll get.”
A 7-0 demolition of Schalke in the second leg means he has the chance to find out. That was one of seven clean sheets in nine outings since the trip to Gelsenkirchen.
However, even allowing for the imperious Aymeric Laporte becoming a key figure at centre-back, suspicion of a glass jaw in a team with no other obvious weaknesses persists.
“We’re always disciplined. I don’t know why people would say that defensively we’re not disciplined,” De Bruyne argues.
“I think defensively we do well, but because we play more offensively than other teams people look at that. I think our shape is always there, our pressing is always there, so that’s well done.”
This much is true. Discipline on the odd occasions City are out of possession is a fundamental for Guardiola.
The ball is regained quickly and the passing carousel spins back into action, with Ederson’s goal becoming a mythical destination that opponents largely dream of from afar.
Bournemouth became the first Premier League team not to have a shot in a home game since Opta started collecting such data when they hosted City in March.
But, if you can just score…
United, Madrid and goals in bunches
Three days after their Merseyside ordeal last April, City lost 3-2 to Manchester United in the derby at the Etihad Stadium, putting their title celebrations on ice. United’s second-half goals rattling in within a 16-minute window.
There are other examples from Guardiola’s post-Barcelona career, most notably when Real Madrid ran away with a Champions League semi-final at Bayern Munich. A Sergio Ramos brace and Cristiano Ronaldo goal amounted to three in 18 minutes at the Allianz Arena.
If this weakness remains for City, it is one rooted in their supreme strength and Guardiola’s principles. A playing style geared towards total dominance is necessarily not designed to consider adversity.
Mauricio Pochettino has largely come off second best since in tussles with Guardiola since the man he once humbled while in charge at Espanyol arrived in Manchester.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) 2 October 2016
Nevertheless, he handed him a first defeat in English football in October 2016 when Tottenham tore into City to claim a 2-0 first-half lead. The old White Hart Lane was a fervent place that afternoon, with the visitors battered from pillar to post as Erik Lamela’s second-half penalty miss counted for little.
Obviously, a team operating entirely in harmony with Guardiola’s specifications represent a much sterner challenge, but Tuesday remains Tottenham’s big chance in the tie.
If Harry Kane and the rest can break through in north London, they have to scent blood and make sure the goals arrive in the time-honoured manner of buses in this part of the world.
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