Chokers or champions? Man City have plenty of bottle despite history of heartbreak

Pep Guardiola Phil Foden Manchester City 2021-22Getty

Tottenham feel like an obvious inspiration for Manchester City to turn to right now.

Pep Guardiola's side can go three points clear on Sunday afternoon thanks to Antonio Conte's side, who claimed a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Saturday evening that left Liverpool wondering if their Premier League title hopes are now over.

Perhaps it should have come as no surprise, given Spurs have shown their fearlessness by doing more damage than anyone to City's title hopes, taking six points off them this season.

But Pep Guardiola can also look back three years to a game against Tottenham that proved crucial to holding off a previous title charge from the Reds.

In late-April 2019, Jurgen Klopp's side were similarly breathing down City's necks in an epic title race, just a point behind and boasting the same intimidating demeanour.

Needing a perfect run to secure a title defence, City's momentum was severely disrupted by a cruel Champions League defeat to Tottenham on away goals rule.

Similar to the midweek heartbreak at Real Madrid, they were on the verge of a memorable night only for it to be ripped away when an injury-time winner from Raheem Sterling was ruled out by VAR.

Just three days later, City had to face Spurs again with the danger of a hangover potentially also ruining their Premier League challenge.

Phil Foden Manchester City Tottenham Premier League 2018-19 GFX

The mood in the immediate aftermath was sombre. Training was unusually quiet and low key. The usual banter was missing and Guardiola and his coaches looked on worryingly.

Phil Foden at least brought some energy and took it into the game, scoring the winning goal, while all around him City's squad dug into their resources to eke out a crucial 1-0 victory.

The final whistle was greeted with a mixture of relief and joy as the title challenge had not been derailed.

Guardiola described it as one of the most incredible performances of his time at the Etihad Stadium and it was a platform for them to go on a winning streak until the end of the season that clinched another Premier League trophy.

Now, they need exactly the same response.

City were minutes away from a second successive Champions League final on Wednesday night before Rodrygo's incredible impact and one of the most remarkable comebacks of all time.

For the older members of the squad like Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne, the defeat will be even more bruising with the clock ticking down on their chances of winning a Champions League trophy.

European failure has long been a stick to beat them and Guardiola with, but it now comes along with added accusations that they choke when under pressure.

Champions League exits have been dogged by moments of madness – two goals in two minutes for Madrid followed costly explosive periods in previous defeats to Monaco, Liverpool and Spurs.

Guardiola was bullish in dismissing suggestions that his side lack character.

"It’s football," he said ahead of Sunday's game. "What happened, we accept it. We have said many times we had lots of chances.

“[Some] people say it was down to a lack of character. A lack of character? What about if Jack Grealish had scored the two goals? What about the character then?

“What about when [Angel] Correa shot in the Atletico Madrid match and [Ederson] saved. Now it’s character. If Correa had scored, it’s not character.

“When Courtois put his feet here and it's deflected for a corner and away from the goal that is not character for the team."

There's a narrative that City don't have the capability to come back from difficult situations, partly because they are rarely ever in them, with their focus on taking control of most games.

But, as an example, of Premier League teams to be losing at half-time this season, no side averages claiming more points than City's 1.33 per match.

Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City Liverpool Premier League 2021-22 GFX

Then there's matches where they've fought back to win after conceding the first goal - against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and away to Arsenal in the Premier League.

Madrid were the first team to beat City this season after trailing.

Even at Anfield, City were losing with 10 minutes to go when De Bruyne lashed in an equaliser for a point that could prove to be crucial.

Still, recovering from the depths of Santiago Bernabeu will be difficult and Guardiola insists they must take the scars of that defeat into the clash with Newcastle.

"They don’t have to forget it," he said. "How are we going to forget it?

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"We are going to play against Newcastle thinking about that for sure and I know the players the day before in the training sessions and the meeting room, we are going to do it.

"I don’t have any doubt about that because at 89 minutes, we were 1-0 and we were close."

Amid accusations that when the going gets tough, City go missing, Sunday is the perfect opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and take one giant step towards retaining their title.