League needs Spurs to stand up to champs
Tottenham have shown they can cause Man City problems but North London side still too brittle
It's the three little words from Roy Keane which have hung over a certain London club for almost two decades. Lads, it's Tottenham.
What the then Manchester United captain knew, but wanted his team-mates to also understand, that building Spurs up as some team to be feared was a waste of time, energy and breath: we know what we are, we know what they are - they are 'just' Tottenham.
And this weekend the rest of the Premier League will look into the whites of the eyes of the Spurs players and wonder if they have the steel, the seriousness, needed to prevent Manchester City's march towards a third successive English Premier League title.
What will be in Pep Guardiola's team-talk when Manchester City face Tottenham tomorrow evening? A weakly-voiced 'go out and enjoy yourselves, lads'? Talk of revenge for the defeat to Spurs last season which denied City's owners the Champions League success they desire so badly? Or will he just borrow Keane's three-word putdown of everything that is Tottenham Hotspur FC?
Spurs have laid down before City, on a regular basis, in the Premier League for the last two seasons. There was a time, pre-Pep and also when Pep Guardiola was still adjusting to life in England, that Spurs held the power in that fixture between the two sides.
Just four seasons ago, the City side led by Manuel Pellegrini was beaten twice in the Premier League by Spurs.
City changed their manager, but the song remained the same: in Guardiola's first season at the club, he managed just one point from two league games against Spurs. Defeats grate for the City boss and he has hardly forgotten, despite all the success he has earned in Manchester, that the first Premier League defeat he suffered was at the hands of Spurs.
That was in the early stages of the 2016/17 season: City started the campaign with 10 wins from 10 games. A 3-3 draw away to Celtic in the Champions League was seen as a minor blip, but four days later City travelled, again, and lost 2-0 to Spurs.
That seemed to infect some worry into the City camp as they endured a run of six games without a win, a run that technically began in Parkhead but which was really moved into gear at White Hart Lane.
City would curse the pain you can suffer from an encounter with Spurs when they drew 2-2 in their next meeting.
But within a year it had all changed. The following season City beat Spurs, convincingly, and did it twice. Last season City also came out on top in the league but Spurs, crucially, won out in their battle in the Champions League.
Keane has since gone back on his caustic comment about the Spurs side of his era, claiming that their European success was a sign that they had changed, added some steel, were not just "nice and tidy" but could be nasty and threatening too.
This weekend, it's not just a battle of head-to-head between Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, it's a test of just how competitive the Premier League will be this season.
Spurs fans want something to happen when the two teams meet in Manchester tomorrow, but the rest of the league needs Spurs to put some blocks in their path if the 2019/20 season is not to be a canter for the reigning champions.
City had a stress-free off-season while Tottenham had their problems, worrying noises from Pochettino about his frustrations over the lack of trophies, not quite a 'come and get me plea' to bigger clubs but a sign that Pochettino was not keen to settle for just anything.
Last season, City won six of their first seven league games (Wolves the only ones to take points off them in that run) before Liverpool held them to a draw. By that stage, City were already on the march to the league title.
Early signs are that City can do the same again this term.
They swatted away West Ham last weekend without breaking sweat, after this weekend they have lined up Bournemouth, Brighton, Norwich, Watford and Everton.
English football needs Spurs to stand up to City tomorrow and Pochettino has shown his steely side by dropping the likes of Christian Eriksen on the opening weekend of the season, but despite their shiny new home, Tottenham simply look too brittle to stand in their way. It's only Tottenham, after all.