Upminster is the last stop on the London Underground’s District Line. Upton Park tube comes 10 stations before, but it will still be the end of the line for West Ham United’s League Cup ambitions in 2014.
Any tannoy announcements of ‘Mind the gap’ will surely go unheeded, as Sam Allardyce’s hammered Hammers try and make up a 6-0 deficit, inflicted in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
With a half-a-dozen goal advantage, City already have one foot firmly planted on the platform at Wembley Central for the Final on March 2nd – but never say never – and Manuel Pellegrini will want to maintain his side’s winning ways.
A run of 15 wins and just two draws from the last 17 games in all competitions, means confidence, not complacency, is coursing through the veins of the Etihad outfit.
Pellegrini is a perfectionist, but he’s also a pragmatist. He will want to take advantage of any opportunity to rest his best XI players as City chase an unprecedented quadruple of Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup silverware.
Undoubtedly his team selection will reflect another familiar railway terminology, that of ‘All change’.
It’s unlikely, but not inconceivable, that the Chilean could change all 11 starters from Saturday’s 11th consecutive Premier League home win of the season, against a resolute Cardiff City.
With an FA Cup 4th round tie coming up against Watford from the Championship this weekend, Pellegrini will hope that many of his squad players can step up and continue City’s cup runs.
It allows him to keep his ‘big guns’ fresh for what he will see as key Premier League battles with Tottenham and Chelsea within the space of five days.
Expect to see a City side that looks something like Pantilimon, Richards, Clichy, Lescott, Nastasic, Rodwell, Garcia, Jovetic, Milner, Dzeko and Lopes, if all the aforementioned are deemed fit and ready to play.
The term ‘fit’ could be subjective in the case of City’s missing £22m man Jovetic. His continued absence from the squad has led to all manner of rumours and speculation.
Just what ills have befallen the talented Montenegrin since his summer move from Fiorentina remain somewhat unclear, but the 24-year old has been limited to five outings in which he has scored two goals.
Prima facie, £11m per goal is not a great return on investment.
Irrespective of what has gone before, Jovetic is a top talent and there were plenty of suitors who wanted his signature last summer. Doubtless there’d be a queue forming if Pellegrini decided to cut his losses and offload the attacking midfielder-cum- second striker in 2014.
The stage is now set for him to make an impact – almost as if he is a new January signing – and help push City on to glory in a season, that could eclipse everything and anything in the club’s history.
A re-introduction against a struggling and demoralised West Ham could be just the tonic for Jovetic. Similarly it should give the exciting prospect Marcos Lopes another chance to shine, taking on the ‘speedster’ role that Jesus Navas occupies in the team.
With a six-goal buffer, Pellegrini should be afforded the luxury of being able to rest the likes of Zabaleta, Kompany, Yaya, Silva,Navas and Negredo, whilst still maintaining a sub’s bench that can stabilise matters or pull things round if needed e.g. Aguero and Fernandinho.
It’s a great situation where Aguero can build up his match fitness step-by-step so that, with a prevailing wind, he will be at optimum levels for the double header with Spuds and Chelski.
It’s extremely questionable if Allardyce will field anything like a full strength team – actually, no, it’s hugely unlikely. If Big Sam stays true to form, his entire focus will be on trying desperately to keep PL football on the menu for next season.
With just Samir Nasri as City’s one recognised casualty, it’s great timing for Pellegrini to have a virtually fully fit squad at his disposal. However, the January window offers Messrs Soriano, Begiristain and Pellegrini a chance to consolidate and enhance the excellent foundations already established.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it would be a wise investment to buy a top quality centre back before February. Everything is looking rosy, but it only takes the loss of Kompany and the whole thing could come undone.
City are obviously not a one-man team, but whereas they seem able to cope with losses in the midfield and the attack, the same cannot be said when Captain Fantastic is absent.
It would make Pellegrini’s stated objectives of winning five trophies in as many years, a darn sight easier if he can land four in his first season. A quadruple is too fanciful to even contemplate, for even the most optimistic sky blue fan.
A safe passage through East London on Tuesday night will, nonetheless, bring a Capital gain a step closer as Pellegrini strives to ensure City’s season doesn’t go down the tubes anytime soon.
By David Walker
I’VE DONE IT BEFORE AND I’LL DO IT AGAIN & DEDICATE THIS ARTICLE TO PAUL GLENNON, A LIFELONG CITY FAN IN DIRE STRAITS AS HE FIGHTS INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS TO TRY & STAY ALIVE LONG ENOUGH TO SEE HIS BELOVED BLUES LIFT ’TONS’ OF SILVERWARE THIS SEASON.
If you’re reading this mate stay as strong as you can for as long as you can and make it through to May and enjoy City’s brightest days in the sun!
If any City fans want to try and boost Paul’s spirits they can follow him on twitter @paulandailz it WILL be appreciated by him, his wife Aileen & their five young children