After completing a historic treble with Manchester City last season, Pep Guardiola was asked what there was left for him to achieve.
“Score a goal against Spurs away,” he said quickly, and probably only half joking.
He won’t need reminding that he takes his team to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Friday in the FA Cup (3 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) looking for a first win there since October 2018. It was so long ago that Nicolás Otamendi and Leroy Sané were in the City squad and Kieran Trippier started for Spurs. Guardiola’s past five visits to Tottenham have all ended in defeat without scoring a goal.
It’s a run that was started by Mauricio Pochettino (1-0 in April 2019) and carried on by Jose Mourinho (2-0 in February 2020 and 2-0 in November 2020), Nuno Espirito Santo (1-0 in August 2021) and Antonio Conte (1-0 in February 2023). Ange Postecoglou, appointed in the summer, is the next Spurs manager to have a go after already orchestrating a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Etihad Stadium in December.
After finally winning the Champions League with City last season, there was speculation Guardiola might quit. The 53-year-old can find motivation in even the smallest things, though.
“I want to beat Spurs away,” he joked. “It’s why I stay.”
His next opportunity comes with City’s treble defence on the line.
“[City’s record there] is the reality, how tough it is for us,” Guardiola told a news conference Thursday. “Always there is a new opportunity to break it, and the feeling is most of the time we played really good. The way we behave and the way we play was good, but the reality is that, no goals and five defeats.”
City and Spurs already have history in the FA Cup after playing out one of the most remarkable ties in the competition’s history.
It’s been nearly 20 years since City travelled to White Hart Lane in February 2004 for a fourth-round replay and were 3-0 down inside 43 minutes. Joey Barton was sent off just before half-time, but with only 10 men in the second half, goals from Sylvain Distin, Paul Bosvelt and Shaun Wright-Phillips dragged City level. It was left to Jon Macken, on as a substitute, to head in a 90th-minute winner and cap one of the greatest ever FA Cup comebacks.
The previous campaign, in 2002-03, City and Spurs finished ninth and tenth in the Premier League, respectively, separated by just a point. Their trajectories since have been so different that they’ll meet this time with City widely regarded as the best club team in the world and Postecoglou charged with winning Spurs their first trophy since 2008.
The bold, blunt Australian, who has had to fend off accusations that he’s copied parts of Guardiola’s tactical plan, has got Spurs into the title race after just 21 games. Beating City on Friday would give them a realistic chance of lifting the FA Cup for the first time since 1991.
With no European football this season, he was criticised for his decision to rotate his squad ahead of the Carabao Cup defeat to Fulham in August, but he insisted afterward that it was only because he wanted the opportunity to get a closer look at some of his fringe players. That assessment complete, he’ll likely field his strongest team against City.
He won’t be able to call on Son Heung-min, who has scored eight goals against City, while he’s away with South Korea at the Asian Cup. James Maddison, impressive since his summer move from Leicester City but sidelined since November with an ankle injury, is back in training, though, and could return.
Guardiola, meanwhile, will have to decide whether to hand Kevin De Bruyne his first start after five months out with a hamstring injury. City’s medical staff are keen to ease De Bruyne back in gently, but if there was any doubt about how important he still is to Guardiola, he proved it with a match-winning 20 minutes in the 3-2 win over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park earlier this month.
For all Guardiola’s questioning of a hectic schedule, he takes domestic cup competitions seriously, and City have reached at least the semifinals of the FA Cup in each of the past five seasons. Tottenham’s last semifinal in the competition was in 2018.
After lifting the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia in December, Guardiola said the triumph — City’s fifth trophy of 2023 — had “closed a chapter” at the club, having won everything there is to win. He sounded like a man who had completed football.
Meanwhile, Postecoglou’s first six month at Spurs have been dominated by questions about whether he’s the man to kick off a new era of success. Postecoglou has plenty on his to-do list, but for Guardiola, just one thing remains: beat Tottenham away.