Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini and his Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino have both sought to play down the significance of Sunday’s crunch Premier League showdown at Etihad Stadium.
Spurs go into the game in second place, ahead of local rivals Arsenal on goal difference and a point better off than City in fourth.
The 2013-14 champions slipped six points behind Leicester City when the surprise leaders recorded a commanding 3-1 victory in Manchester last weekend – a feat Tottenham have ambitions of matching following their 4-1 triumph over Pellegrini’s men at White Hart Lane in September.
“It was a very important game for us,” Pochettino said. “It was a very important victory.
“It gave to us more belief and trust in ourselves and our quality. It was one of the important games at the beginning of the season.”
This weekend could turn out to be hugely influential on the outcome of the title race, with Arsenal hosting Leicester earlier on Sunday, but Pellegrini pointed out further twists could occur over the matches still to be played by the championship contenders in an unpredictable season.
“It’s not a decisive game but a very important game – after we play for another 36 points,” he said.
“For our team, it’s important to try to return to the top of the table.
“Two or three teams are in front of us in this moment so we must try to reclaim the points.”
Pellegrini will look towards a pair of influential performers this weekend – captain Vincent Kompany on his comeback from a calf injury and in-form striker Sergio Aguero, who has 10 goals in his eight previous appearances against Spurs – as City aim to bounce back from their chastening last outing.
“Maybe it was an unexpected defeat against Leicester,” the manager said.
“The previous 11 games, we lost just one before that against Everton – in the first leg of a cup match we went on to win.
“We were in a good moment but now we must play well against Spurs.
“Spurs are a good team, they are involved in the title with 13 games to go.”
Pochettino meanwhile believes every one of the subsequent matches can be as vital as the encounter at Eastlands.
“Every game is very important. But it is not decisive. It’s not the last game,” he said.
The Argentine coach confirmed he will still be without defender Jan Vertonghen and forward Clinton Njie due to knee problems, but that is an injury list Pellegrini might envy as he prepares to do without a host of first-team regulars.
Kompany’s return is offset by news that midfielder Fabian Delph and right-back Bacary Sagna will miss the match with Achilles and knee complaints respectively.
The duo join Eliaquim Mangala (hamstring), Samir Nasri (thigh), Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Wilfried Bony (calf) and Jesus Navas (hamstring) on the sidelines, although David Silva will continue to play through the pain of an ankle issue.
Aguero appears to have put his own injury woes behind him, having scored nine times in as many matches since the turn of the year, and the Argentina star netted all of City’s goals as they won last season’s corresponding fixture 4-1.
Key Opta stats:
– The past nine Premier League matches between Manchester City and Tottenham have produced 41 goals.
– City have won eight and lost two of their last 10 Premier League games against Spurs – including victories in the last five encounters at the Etihad Stadium.
– Sergio Aguero’s minutes-per-goal rate of one every 108.2 minutes is the best of any player with at least five goals scored in Premier League history.
– City have scored 23 per cent of their goals this season from outside the penalty area – the highest proportion in the league. Spurs have only conceded one Premier League goal from outside the box in 2015-16.
– Dele Alli has had a hand in 11 strikes from his last 14 Premier League games for Spurs, netting six goals and supplying five assists.