Roberto Mancini can reflect on a very satisfying start to 2013, with a 100% win record and the spectre of Pep Guardiola being laid to rest in respect of the Manchester City manager’s job.
Ill informed media speculation proved to be just that, as the ex-Barcelona boss signed a three-year deal to go to Bayern Munich, thereby ending rumours of a summer switch to the Etihad.
Despite intense hype that Pep or Jose Mourinho were primed to usurp the ever popular Italian from his three-and-a-half year reign at the end of May, Mancini remains very much in charge.
To the tune of Volare, City supporters will be singing his name even louder if his team can cut the gap at the top of the Premier League with a home win against Fulham. Better still if it remains the situation come Sunday night and Spurs have beaten Manure.
The passionate and immensely likeable Mancini, has a steely resolve and a winning mentality that is now engrained in his men. There is a genuine and unshakeable belief on the blue side of Manchester that City WILL retain their hard fought title.
Fulham would appear like a comparatively easy three points, but if Vincent Kompany leads his team mates onto the pitch with those thoughts City could come undone.The visitors have an impressive record at City, losing just three of the last 10. The 3-0 home win in snowy February, was City’s first win in five attempts and Martin Jol has proven a formidable foe over the years.
Last year’s wintry conditions provided a backdrop for some comedic capers as the Etihad’s valiant ground staff came to the fore as the blizzard raged, with shovels aplenty to define the 18 yard areas and penalty spots to ensure the game continued.
Back to the present, the impetus of that history-shattering win at Arsenal, the momentum of the rescinding of Kompany’s red card and the prospective return of Aguero, Nasri and Rodwell means City are in good shape.
A lack of activity in the transfer market is perhaps disappointing, but as City begin to hit something approaching ‘champion’ form and the extensive list of injuries clear, who is to say this squad hasn’t got what it takes?
No longer are there question marks over the defence. The clean sheets are mounting up like a high class linen cupboard with Zabaleta, Clichy, Kompany and either Nastasic or Lescott proving a formidable unit.
The midfield, even without Yaya, is functioning well as Garcia finally gets to grips with the speed of the PL. Milner and Barry are massively under-rated but bring so much to every City performance, whereas David Silva is back to his sublime best after his enforced, injury-induced rest in October and November.
Nasri continues to underwhelm, albeit he can bring an added dimension to the team, when he applies himself. His Derby Day ‘disappearing wall’ trick still remains unforgiveable and his petulant dismissal at Norwich and consequent three-match ban, does not sit well.
It still amuses that a man who shied away from a Van Persie shot subsequently fronted up to Sebastian Bassong, a Cameroon defender twice his size. It probably owed more to bravado than spherical objects.
The RVP effect over at The Swamp could actually reap dividends for City in the second half of the season. As the Dutch striker hogs the headlines for the Reds, City’s strike force of Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and, to a lesser degree, Balotelli, have been fired up by Mancini’s implicit and, at times, explicit, criticism of under achievement.
Sergio, Carlos and Edin have all hit double figures and the goals are now beginning to flow. With City once again established as the number one defence in the PL, the onus is on the goal-getters to get the job done.
Fulham will be less than fresh from their visit to the seaside after an extra time win over Blackpool in an FA Cup replay on Tuesday night. Aligned to the fact that they have one of the oldest 30+ playing staff in the PL and City are rightly hot favourites.
The match could see the return of Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester. Berbaflop, as he was dismissively labelled by City fans during his United career, remains a threat and, on his day is still capable of hurting PL defences. His Costa Rican strike partner Bryan Ruiz is no slouch and City will need to neutralise their threat.
If City score first the omens are good – 11 wins and 1 draw have ensued once the Sky Blues take the lead. Surely City’s firepower will prove too much for a Fulham ‘D’ that leaks goals at more than two per game away from West London.
In Italy, Mancini was accorded the nickname ‘Uno Fortuanto’ – The Lucky One – based on his achievements rather than simple good fortune. A convincing win will ‘pep’ up City’s charge and reinforce the conviction that 2013 will be anything but unlucky for Bobby Manc.