Spurs and City meet at White Hart Lane for a match-up between competitive rivals that has grown immensely in importance and intensity over the past few seasons. Having each broken into the top four once over the past two campaigns, they are the new members of the elite club at the top of the table, and they continue to jockey with one another as they fight to continue their climb. City have of course taken the more fiscally liberal approach to this arms race, bringing in loads of talent with the money of their oil tycoon owners. Meanwhile, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has continued to make due with a strict wage structure and more modest signings, trying to pick up diamonds in the rough rather than pricy, proven commodities.
It seems, though, that City’s spending over the past few seasons - matched only by Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona - has completely changed the financial landscape, and Levy is finding it harder and harder to pay the fees required to improve his squad. This is of course compounded by the fact that Spurs already have a very good squad, and the players available that would actually seem a marked improvement over their current crop are all of the expensive variety. As a result, it was City that made progress in the standings last season, as Spurs fell back to fifth in the league and out of the Champions League places.
So, rapidly approaching the close of the transfer window with recruits still needed, Levy added a new wrinkle to his strategy: picking players off from his rival’s squad. City have acquired a surplus of talent, especially in attacking positions, over the past few years. It was only a matter of time before some would have to be sold off, and at a cut rate. This has enabled Levy to sign Emmanuel Adebayor on loan for the season, with City retaining a chunk of his wage bill - and now it is rumored that he is looking to do the same with out-of-favor attacker Craig Bellamy. An interesting tactic indeed, but one which may pay off for Tottenham’s more frugal front office in the end. Only time will tell.
This brings us to this season’s first match between the two sides. Adebayor will not be able to make his debut, as he cannot play against the club that owns him as part of the loan agreement. That means Harry Redknapp will have to make due with Jermain Defoe, Roman Pavlyuchenko, and perhaps Peter Crouch, who looks like he may be headed for more playing time at Stoke, for at least one more week. Defoe is the odds-on bet to make the start in front of free-roaming Rafa van der Vaart, as he did last week against the red half of Manchester. Don’t be surprised, though, if he is on a short leash - he wasted several chances against United by frustratingly refusing to shoot, and didn’t link well with Van der Vaart either.
Another man sitting on a hot seat is winger Aaron Lennon. The most agonizing moment of the match against United was a play where Lennon cut inside the box, where he had Van der Vaart to his left in acres of space, waiting to put the ball away. Instead, he chose to try to lash the ball across the box and ended up knocking it off a defender, back into himself, and out of bounds. Van der Vaart made no secret of his feelings, pulling his shirt over his head in disgust.
The one man to watch above all others, though, is the diminutive Croatian who has been the talk of the transfer window. Luka Modric will, according to Redknapp, make his first start of the season. With reports that Chelsea will offer a last-ditch bid of £40 Million, Levy has stuck by his stance that he will not be sold. We will know within a week whether that holds true, but what Modric continues to represent is the chairman’s ambition to keep pace with his rivals and build a winning squad. Modric embodies Levy’s intent to build a good club into a great one - he wants to challenge for the title, not sell off his stars for profit to those who are already challengers. Thus far, he has decided to hold the want-away playmaker to his contract and turn down the loads of cash being offered. How Modric plays in the match may be an indication of whether Levy’s gamble even has a chance of working. If Luka looks disinterested or unmotivated, it might be the deciding signal to Levy that there is no choice but to sell him. If he performs at his usual high level though, it might be all the justification Levy needs.
It always seems to be a tight contest between these two and, with the match being played in North London, I would expect no different this time around. Spurs will be motivated by the home crowd and battle hard to get off the foot of the table. I predict a 2-2 draw and, as a Spurs fan, I hope that Modric is instrumental throughout. If Spurs can even eke out a win, it might be just what the creative Croatian needs to change his mind about where his future lies - at least until January.