Well it’s here. The Barclays Premier League (TM) fixtures computer has managed to schedule Sparky v Scarfy at a remarkably interesting point in the season. Manchester City currently sit in 4th but this is overshadowed by rumours of dressing-room discontent and increasingly disillusioned fans. The fans have been vocal about their disappointment following a number of “bore draws” which is less than desirable from a team apparently aiming for Champions League action next season, even if it does seem to be a successful strategy, for the moment at least.
On our turf, things are only marginally better. We’re the league’s draw specialists so far this season, with a record 8 draws in 13 games (although a handful of clubs including Man Utd, Bolton and Sunderland have drawn 7 times which puts some context to otherwise meaningless figures) but at least we’re not booing Sparky and the boys off the pitch. Yet. Our inability to take the full 3 points from more than 2 games this season means we’re languishing just above the relegation zone in 16th, but we can take comfort from the fact that a horribly congested league table means there are only 5 points between 5th place and 17th. A win this weekend could see a jump to the top half and I suspect this congestion will be a reality for much of the season.
So, on paper, it looks like it might be a dull game. And well it might, on the pitch at least. However the media are frothing at the mouth about how Mancini currently has the same number of points as Man City’s previous manager at the same point last season. And we all know what happened 11 months ago (I remember it clearly – we’d just beaten Man Utd and I honestly thought we might have been first on Match of the Day. I’ve not yet forgiven Man City for usurping our rightful spot). Both managers certainly have an awful lot to fight for this Sunday, not least their pride and I can’t help but think that more attention will be paid to the touchline than on-field matters. I know I’ll be keeping one eye on the dugouts during the game.
So on to the players. Stephen Kelly will be hoping to make his 100th League appearance this weekend. We’ll be without Moussa Dembele who has been ruled out for 3 weeks with a recurrence of that ankle injury he sustained against Stoke in the League Cup. Carlos Salcido should make a return from his injury, although whether he’ll play a full 90 minutes remains to be seen so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a little more of Matthew Briggs, especially following Hughes’ glowing praise for him after the Chelsea game. Chris Baird didn’t feature in Northern Ireland’s draw with Morocco in the week and is still a doubt for this weekend, as is Dickson Etuhu. It will be interesting to see who Sparky pairs with Andrew Johnson up front but he may want to consider that Clint Dempsey has scored 3 goals in his last 2 starts against City.
In the light blue corner, Joe Hart has recovered from his back spasm and is likely to feature in goal. Mancini still has a number of injuries to contend with, including Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry who both picked up knocks whilst playing for England in the week, but there is still an enormously expensive back four to contend with, including Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany. Balotelli is still suspended but Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland will have to contain Carlos Tevez who sits joint first in the league’s top scorers with a tally of 7 so far this season. Adebayor is recovering from injury but it’ll be a worry if he features at any point; he’s scored 4 in 5 league games against us.
And a word of warning for Schwzarzer and Hart; only 1 in the last 16 games between us and them has seen either team keep a clean sheet.
Perhaps it won’t be such a snoozefest on the pitch after all….
Probable starting XI: Schwarzer, Salcido, Hangeland, Hughes, Kelly, Gera, Murphy, Greening, Davies, Dempsey, A Johnson