Scythed down by the sickle of old Mother Russia in midweek, Manchester City must guard against the other tool that adorned the former Soviet Union flag, the Hammer, when they travel to London’s East End.
Moscow was freezing, uninviting, cruel and criminal whereas recent trips to West Ham have proved warm, welcoming and rewarding affairs for City.
Last season’s six-goal haul in two wins at Upton Park, contributed to City’s domination of Sam Allardyce’s blunt instruments, totalling four wins, fourteen goals scored and just one conceded.
It extended City’s unbeaten run over the less than happy Hammers to 10 games in all competitions, including eight wins.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men will once again start as favourites – despite their Muscovite mishap – but a more enterprising West Ham will fancy themselves to forge a change in fortune against the champions, here are the odds according to William Hill
Big/Fat (you decide) Sam is running a leaner machine than in recent times, and fourth place in the Premier League is testimony to a tasty start to the season for the Irons.
Could it be that the West Ham fans are on the verge of having a team whose performances come close to that of one of the most loyal, loud and proud band of supporters?
The travelling West Ham contingent were magnificent on May 11th when City sealed their second Premier League title in three years.
The 1,680 men women and children who’d travelled ‘norf’ in claret and blue garb saluted the newly crowned Champions of England, mingled with giddy City fans and enjoyed the spectacle of the occasion.
Glory days of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst are long since past, but your average Iron will still tell you that West Ham won the World Cup in 1966.
They, like City’s loyal and long suffering fans, deserve some time in the sun after decades of under achievement, mismanagement and chronic disappointment…just ‘leave it out’ until after Saturday lunchtime!
Jet-lagged and potentially jaded after their second half suicide mission in Moscow, aided and abetted by horrific, culpable homicide penalty decisions from Hungarian ref Istvan Vad, City cannot afford any CSKA hangover.
Pellegrini knows he faces a West Ham side brimming with self belief, courtesy of a 3-1 home demolition of Brenda’s Liverpool braves and the cruel denial of a well deserved draw against Louis’ Gaalacticos at The Swamp.
If City are to once again leave West Ham barking mad and take the three points on offer, they’re going to have work for it.
Unfortunately Super Frankie Lampard will not be available to incur the wrath and ire of a crowd that used to adore the skills of one of their own. An injured thigh muscle keeps him out, along with the fast recovering, post surgical Samir Nasri.
Other than that, Pellegrini has a fully fit squad and one that must atone for 49 scandalous minutes of unfathomable Champions League ineptitude.
Just what the hell did happen at CSKA? There’s perhaps more chance of finding Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Lord Lucan and Shergar before someone can adequately explain.
Any reoccurrence of whatever afflicted the Boys In Blue on Tuesday night will give unhealthy encouragement to the Royal Blues of Chelski, as they prepare for a visit to the Theatre of Screams.
God knows it doesn’t happen often, but a lot of City fans will be hoping Manure avoid defeat against Moanrinho to help City peg back the five point deficit. Wishing the Trafford Troglodytes a morale boosting win before the Manchester derby would be pushing it too much.
Having seen his 4-4-2 formation fail to deliver in Europe for the umpteenth time, Pellegrini knows the battlefields of the Premier League provide more fertile furrows.
In Sergio Aguero, City suddenly find themselves with the Premier League’s joint top scorer (9 goals) after his one man demolition of Spurs last weekend. Add two goals in the Champions League to his tally and he has 11 goals in 11 games (including three as substitute).
It’s not so much scoring goals, but conceding them, that has been City’s problem thus far.
In 12 competitive games they’ve only kept three clean sheets, and that’s after strengthening the back line with Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna.
City’s defence will be tested by two of Sam’s summer signings – £12m Ecuadorian Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho, the Senegalese striker bought from Metz.
Having been told to provide a more attractive playing style by his board of directors, Allardyce appears, at this stage, to be satisfying their wishes with 15 PL goals – only four teams have scored more.
They already have four wins this season, a feat not achieved until mid-January last season, after 23 attempts, so credit where it’s due.
City have the best away record in the PL with three wins and a draw – 10 points – three more than the seven taken thus far at the traditional Fortress Etihad…most unusual.
As seems to be the norm at present, City cannot afford to drop any points and risk Chelsea surging seven or even eight points clear.
Expect a round of changes under Pellegrini’s squad rotation system. It could see Sagna and Clichy come in for Zabaleta and Kolarov, Demichelis for Mangala and even see a departure from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 with Aguero supported by Yaya, Silva and Milner.
Fernando and Fernandinho would provide defensive midfield cover and allow Yaya to go in search of goals and his missing ‘mojo’ from last season.
Jovetic, Dzeko and Navas could give fresh impetus from the bench if required.
There’s a misperception that City are somehow struggling, but they have one more point at this stage of the season than last term and, Moscow aside, performance levels are on the rise.
They’ve beaten Liverpool and deserved to beat both Arsenal and Chelsea but had to settle for draws. It’s only Chelsea’s superb start that has cast any clouds domestically, so a more optimistic perspective wouldn’t go amiss.
That would soon change if the Hammers bludgeon City with their shiny new tool set. One can only hope the Engineer’s more refined approach will win the day.
By David Walker
Dedicated to Pete Murtha a great friend, successful entrepreneur and a diehard ‘Iron’ who makes helping youngsters with serious illness at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital his business #TOPMAN. Notwithstanding his kindness and compassion I hope he has a rotten Saturday lunchtime! 😉
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu