‘So here it is Merry Christmas everybody’s having fun…’ so sang Noddy Holder in Slade’s Christmas classic number one, but forget whatever was under your tree – three points come Boxing Day night is THE perfect present for me!
And in the same way ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ was a chart topper with lyrics ‘Look to the future now, it’s only just begun…’ Manchester City could find themselves ‘Top of the Pops’ during the festive period with so much more to come.
Whereas the world and his wife are always welcoming of a man in red on the 24th-cum-25th of December, nothing could be further from the truth for the 45,000 men, women and children in sky blue on the night of the 26th!
It promises to be the proverbial Christmas cracker when Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool roll up to the Etihad for the biggest test of their title aspirations against Manual Pellegrini’s Premier League favourites.
Tis’ the season for tales of wonderment, so all City supporters will be hoping that despite the absence of Aguero, Zabaleta, Richards and Nastasic it will be nine out of nine home wins .
Stories have emerged of Zaba and Nasty returning to full training but surely it’s one request too many to Santa to have both key defenders back so soon?
As the football world admires the on-field genius of Luis Suarez – quite rightly so with 36 goals in his last 34 Liverpool appearances – City would be best served by fielding their best back four, arguably Zaba, Captain Kompany, Nasty and the fleet-of-foot Clichy, in his orthodox left back berth. This appears extremely unlikely.
If, as feared City are still missing a conventional right back surely the adaptable, reliable and in fine form, James Milner could do a job, and spare Clichy the risk of being wrong-footed down the right flank.
Similarly, does the right-footed Martin Demichelis continue instead of the left footed Joleon Lescott in a central pairing with Kompany?
Pellegrini is more than aware of Liverpool’s attacking prowess (42 PL goals scored places them second only to City’s 51) but, true to his football philosophy, the Chilean will simply want to outscore the opposition.
The loss of Sergio is a massive setback for City but still the goals keep coming, with four after he hobbled off against Arsenal, three at Leicester and four again at Fulham.
Liverpool will be handicapped by the absence of ex-City Academy starlet Daniel Sturridge and England skipper Steven Gerrard, but it’s the prolific Suarez who City fans will be hoping overdoes the Christmas Pudding and brandy sauce – but fat chance of that!
Rather than get pre-occupied with the superb Uruguayan, Pellegrini is more focused on the damage his men can do to Liverpool.
For starters the ‘Beast of Christmas Present’ Alvaro Negredo, supported by none other than Jesus himself, David ‘Merlin’ Silva and Samir ‘The Renaissance Man’ Nasri will be looking to give Liverpool a stuffing, if not a right good old ‘Rodgering’ before Boxing Day Night is out.
The foundation stone of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure is a platform which is the envy of the Premier League, so all City fans approaching this game with an air of Suarez-induced apprehension…think again!
Rodgers may be catching the eye and getting all the plaudits in the media, rather like ‘Arry Redknapp used to do of old, but it’s the understated, non-limelight seeking Pellegrini who is truly coming into his own as the season progresses.
Lest we forget he started the season still grieving after the death of his mother, moving to a foreign country, adapting to a different culture, starting a new job, working with new personnel and needing to change City’s style of play.
How many people would have instantly hit the ground running? It takes time but now, just five months into the challenge, a consistent pattern is emerging…WINNING and winning with real panache and style.
Paddy Power, Bet Fred, Ladbrokes, Corals etc, what’s the betting City fans are getting ever shortening odds on Etihad victories that resemble rugby scores rather than football?
Ever the pragmatist, Pellegrini knows it is unlikely – not however impossible – for City to keep smashing opponents for sixes & sevens. City fans would happily ‘settle’ for the team’s PL average of a meagre three goals-per-game.
At the start of the month Read But Never Red stated – somewhat optimistically – that 19 points of out 21 would put City at the helm of the PL going into 2014.
A win against Liverpool followed up by a 10th home victory against a fragile Crystal Palace, would achieve that phenomenal points haul, in a December that has seen four away wins for City side that ‘doesn’t fair well away from Fortress Etihad’. Just wait until the travel sickness pills kick in!
Back home, City’s sharpshooters will be going for their 59th consecutive game in which they’ve found the back of the Etihad nets. Set against that dazzling statistic are two Boxing Day blanks in the past two seasons in ignominious showings at WBA (0-0) and the Stadium of Dim – bloody Sunderland and the standard issue 0-1 reversal.
Keeping with recent history, City and Liverpool encounters have more often than not concluded in a stalemate. Six of the last nine PL games have been drawn, whereas City’s two wins and Liverpool’s solitary victory have all been conclusive 3-0 victories.
A Boxing Day night draw would mean the world to the Reds. It would be disappointing in the extreme for City, but not the end of their world.
It’s an intriguing prospect, one that could confirm City as clear title favourites or, alternatively present Liverpool as the real deal in the chase for top domestic honours.
One thing virtually guaranteed is the largest and loudest rendition of a song that never fails to create that certain something, a special atmosphere …no, not White bleedin Christmas, it’s the Yaya-Kolo anthem.
A home win will have the Etihad singing the blues in the knowledge that City’s days of glory have only just begun.
Noddy would be proud, but as for Big Ears, well he’ll probably have a bit of a headache after City jubilant supporters have pumped up the volume.
By David Walker
This article is dedicated to two true MCFC blues – Paul Glennon @paulandailz & Jacqui.E.(LadyBlue @jacqui77 – both battling bravely against massive health challenges this Christmas.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL MANCHESTER CITY FANS & AN EVEN BETTER BOXING DAY NIGHT!