The Boing Boing Baggies bounce into Manchester for a fixture that has suddenly assumed new meaning in Manchester City’s quest to secure second spot in the Premier League.
Rafa Benitez’s ability to ram it up Fergie’s fundament in recent times, means City face a rude awakening after the snoozy sunny Saturday in Swansea, and a real fight to hold on to the runners-up position.
A match, previously viewed as nothing more than an inconvenience in City’s FA Cup Final Wembley preparations, is now one that needs winning to keep daylight between the Sky Blues and Chelsea.
Any Manure defeat is normally greeted with smiles on the blue side of Manchester. The fact that Rafa’s men rained on the Red’s parade, disappointing 72,500 of the muck-spreader’s fans – be they from Kensington or Kuala Lumpur, Battersea or Bangkok – was tempered by the clear and present danger Chelsea now pose to City.
Understandably, Roberto Mancini will want to safeguard some of his stars from any potential injuries, keeping them fresh for the rigors of City’s fifth Wembley date in the past two years – but there are risks attached.
Anything less than a 14th home win of the season would give Chelsea added impetus, as they go into their crucial all-London Champions League crunch game against Tottenham on Wednesday evening.
That said, what appeared to be arguably City’s preferred first XI sent us all into slumber in South Wales, as they swanned around with little purpose and no end product.
Logically, Mancini could select Edin Dzeko to minimise Aguero’s exposure to Messrs Olsson, McAuley and Ridgewell, but the Bosnian striker’s recent form has dropped quicker than Stuart Hall’s listening figures.
Lest we forget, he was City’s hero at The Hawthorns back in October when he struck two goals in 10 minutes, sinking the buoyant Baggies in his super-sub role.
It’s as obvious as the purple nose on Slur Baconface’s fizzog that Dzeko’s ‘Edin’ (sorry that’s an appalling pun) out of the Etihad this summer, but while he continues to collect his six figure weekly wage it would be nice if he’d put in a decent shift now and again.
Whether he can be trusted to wear a City shirt again is debatable. It’s a sad, ignominious end to his City career, but fair to say his ‘efforts’ at Everton, Spurs and Swansea have been pathetic.
It’d be a measure of the man if he could produce a couple of barnstorming games prior to his departure, with Dortmund the most likely destination.. To think he could be leading the line for the newly crowned European Champions next season…quite bizarre.
Whereas City may toy with changes to their attacking line-up, the PL’s best defence may stay intact after notching their 16th clean sheet of the season in the snore draw at Swansea.
Whether Joleon Lescott is recalled to help cope with the rampaging Romelu Lukaku remains to be seen, but City skipper, Vincent Kompany will do well to help quell the danger of his Belgian compatriot.
Matches against West Brom are normally entertaining affairs, and Steve Clarke’s side are able to play with a freedom of expression, so often denied them in recent years due to relegation worries.
Sitting pretty in eighth and, barring a late flourish from Swansea, destined to stay there for their highest PL finish, Albion will undoubtedly have the backing of one of the most vociferous travelling support in the country.
It behoves the Blue Mooners to match and surpass the vocals of the boys from the Black Country on the night, aided and abetted by some additions to City’s ‘Goals For’ column, sadly 26 down on this time last year.
In the past it took City eight attempts to beat the Baggies when the Blues, under Keegan, Pearce and Eriksson all failed after returning to the top flight. It was left to a Mark Hughes’ led City, to finally beat the hoodoo with a 4-2 win in April 2009.
Fair to say the West Midlanders were something of a bogey team, but in those days so were Spurs, Everton, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea…it was tough being a City fan.
With four wins and two draws from the last six games against WBA, City must be favourites, but they cannot afford to be afflicted by the malaise that has so often infuriated supporters and Mancini alike.
Triple points and good form are vital as City look towards Wembley Way, especially when the warriors from Wigan are fighting for their Premier League, lives with some sterling showings.
A gutsy 3-2 win at the Hawthorns at the weekend and City’s fortunate 1-0 win over the Pie Eaters just three weeks ago, is evidence enough that this will be no Wembley walkover for Mancini’s side.
Whether or not City can risk multiple changes remains to be seen. Richards, Kolarov and Lescott could come in for Zabaleta, Clichy and Nastasic, Rodwell or Garcia might replace Yaya, with Dzeko and Tevez starting ahead of Silva and Aguero.
Irrespective of any changes, a fully committed and focused City should have enough on home turf to make sure Albion don’t get their sixth away win of the season.
In football parlance, City have to take it game by game, but preferably arrive in North London with a full complement of fit playing personnel and automatic Champions League qualification sorted.