When Big Fat Sam grabbed three juicy, but totally unexpected points at White Hart Lane, he did Manchester City a double favour.
Mr Allardyce – to be a tad more respectful – not only hammered Tottenham’s not so hot spurs before the international break, therefore depriving City’s rivals of vital points, he also put Manuel Pellegrini on the Mancunian equivalent of DEFCON 1 – Maximum Alert.
Prior to West Ham’s shock victory – topped off by Ravel Morrison’s wonder goal – the Eastenders had notched just one win in six, and that was achieved on the opening day of the season.
No doubt that Pellegrini will have approached the trip to Upton Park as a consummate professional and will have City fully focused. That said it didn’t work when City went away to Cardiff and Villa and, at least now, Pellegrini is well aware of West Ham’s capabilities.
The Londoners are not dissimilar to Villa as far as City are concerned. It has nothing to do with their playing colours of claret and light blue – but more so their recent head-to-head Premier League record against the Sky Blues.
Villa fans readily admit that City are a bogey side, but it’s just the same with the ‘East Larndan’ team. The Irons have won just one of the last 12 PL encounters, the solitary victory coming in March 2009, when City went down 1-0 in the capital.
West Ham go into tonight’s game wanting to avoid a third straight home PL defeat – the same situation as Villa, before the A-grade Brummies, pulled off that startling 3-2 win in late September.
United have under achieved at home, losing to Stoke and Everton since beating Cardiff 2-0 in August. Conversely, City’s away form is even worse, garnering one out of nine points from visits to two of the same teams – Cardiff and Stoke, plus the ignominious showing at Villa.
Pellegrini has already pinpointed road trips as City’s Achilles Heel this season, so the next four fixtures – all away from the Etihad – will be a big influence on the fortunes of the Sky Blues.
CSKA Moscow, Chelsea and Newcastle United await after today and, with Champions League progression clearly a Pellegrini priority, it is nonetheless essential that City stay firmly focused on the PL.
Back-to-back wins over the Russians this Wednesday and November 5th would virtually ensure City a place in the CL knockout phase next February with games – at home to Plzen and away to Bayern Munich – still to play.
To have qualified after just two-thirds of the Group Stages would be manna from heaven after the recent disappointments of the CL, but it’s implausible to imagine City lifting European football’s top prize in Lisbon next May.
Pragmatically, they are far more likely to be winning their second PL title in three years, but will only do so by not falling short in eminently winnable games such as today.
City must return to the habit of taking maximum points away from home. That objective will not be helped by the absence of injured skipper Vincent Kompany and the non-appearance of new signing Martin Demichelis.
The Argentine veteran, purchased as emergency back-up for ‘Kaptain Kompany’, managed a 45-minute run out for City’s EDS side in midweek but is still ring rusty for the rigours of the top flight.
Pellegrini’s probable selection will be Joleon Lescott, who put in a stellar performance following his recall against Everton, and Matija Nastasic in central of defence.
Scoring goals has been West Ham’s weakness, with a not-so magnificent seven in seven games, contrasting with City’s 17, making the men from Manchester the PL top scorers.
A decidedly stingy defence is the strength of Allardyce’s side, surrendering just five goals. James Collins will be absent from the West Ham rearguard after a midweek injury with Wales, so Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo will be keen to take up where they left off, before their international commitments with Argentina and Spain.
David Silva’s return, along with an enhanced attacking emphasis, are the positives in City’s slightly stuttering start to the season, so it comes as a surprise to find out that it’s the Hammer’s Mark Noble who has created the most goal-scoring chances (17) in the PL.
City must ensure Noble’s efforts go unrewarded and that his goal-shy team mates continue to be just that! The ongoing absence of Andy Carroll can only be of benefit to City but, the same was said when Villa’s Christian Benteke was absent – and City still lost.
The visitors should be onto a good thing if Sergio can grab a goal during proceedings. Thus far when Aguero scores in the PL City haven’t lost – 28 wins & 2 draws – but a third away defeat, this early in the season, would be very damaging to both City’s and Pellegrini’s credibility.
City need to shut-up shop at the back and return to being PL Scrooges, conceding the least amount of goals for each of the past three seasons.
As well as Lescott, Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell may also feature– all three having missed out on international duty. The trio will all want to catch Roy Hodgson’s eye to press their World Cup claims.The match could revolve around two African influences; Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure for City and Senegal’s Mohammad Diame for West Ham. Whoever can take midfield control should hold the key to victory.
In form and the stand-in skipper, Yaya, with half-a-dozen goals scored this season, must lead by example and shake City out of their awayday daze if they are to hammer home their title credentials.
By David Walker www.readbutneverred.com @djwskyblu
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