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W2W4: Can Tottenham depose Man City, the Invincibles-elect?

W2W4: Can Tottenham depose Man City, the Invincibles-elect?
From ESPN - December 15, 2017

In the midst of a crowded calendar, with teams coming off midweek Premier League contests, W2W4 highlights the biggest storylines ahead of the weekend's matches.

How far are Spurs behind the leaders?

"Eighteen points, it says it right there in the table!" I hear you cry. Of course, in a literal sense the gap to Manchester City is less of a pothole for Tottenham to skip over and more a yawning chasm that could stretch to 21 points -- or seven victories, to give it more clarity -- by the final whistle in Saturday's late kickoff at the Etihad Stadium.

But while Mauricio Pochettino's side may be closer to the bottom three than the Premier League podium at this juncture, is that a true reflection of their quality? There have been mitigating factors in a mixed start to the season, with the manager pointing the blame at the club's protracted transfer business -- that saw City poach Kyle Walker -- and the adjustment to the new surroundings of Wembley Stadium. Throw in injuries to key players such as Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld, plus Dele Alli's loss of form and Harry Kane's August curse, and it's no wonder they have taken time to get up to speed.

Both Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, perhaps with ulterior motives, have suggested at different stages in 2017 that Spurs are the strongest side in England, and their current run of three wins in the last eight Premier League matches certainly does not paint the full picture. In a table for the calendar year, Pochettino's outfit are second behind City, trailing the leaders by seven points having played a game more.

That points to City's dominance in the current campaign, having smashed the record for consecutive victories with their 15th on the spin against an anaemic Swansea side in midweek. But if anyone can end that run, which included wins vs. Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, it is Tottenham. They have already shown against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League that if they play to the very best of their collective ability, they are a match for any opponent. And given their fast-fading hopes in the title race, they have little to lose in taking the game to City on Saturday.

It was Spurs who ended City's six-game winning streak at the start of last season with a pulsating 2-0 victory at White Hart Lane, and they fought back to claim a 2-2 draw in Manchester in January. It should be Spurs who again provide the greatest test to Pep Guardiola's side at the weekend, just as they appear set to run away with the Premier League crown.

Will a revitalised Mahrez maintain his excellent run?

Claude Puel has a habit of rejuvenating mercurial inverted wingers, having helped save Hatem Ben Arfa's career at Nice and now restoring Riyad Mahrez's confidence at Leicester. Four of the Algerian's five goals this term have come after Puel's appointment in October, with his strikes in back-to-back matches against Newcastle and Southampton hinting that he is nearing his coruscating form in the title-winning 2015-16 campaign.

Mahrez was unstoppable that season and, after links to Barcelona and Roma followed, it's somewhat a surprise to see him still cutting inside the King Power pitch 18 months later. Puel has spoken of his plan to "seduce" the 26-year-old into committing his future to the Foxes, but he would surely settle for six months of his current form before a high-priced exit that suits all parties in the summer.

With Ben Arfa linked to a reunion with Puel after finding himself on the fringes at Paris Saint-Germain, there have been whispers of a potential swap deal in January. That, if anything, is an incentive for Mahrez to maintain his impressive recent displays when Leicester host Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Can Liverpool return to winning ways?

Will a midweek goal kick-start Lukaku's form?

Wobbling Watford

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