The Premier League’s only undefeated team could make a Saturday night charge to top the table if they can hammer the ‘Irons’.
Manchester City may have lacked the swagger of champions in recent games but, with a quarter of the season gone, Roberto Mancini’s curiously maligned men are within striking distance of the PL summit.
With the benefit of a week of playing inactivity, City welcome back two of their walking wounded – Pablo Zabaleta and Javi Garcia – and the suspended James Milner to bolster their challenge against Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United.
Such are the standards set by Mancini and expectations of supporters, City are expected to win almost every PL game these days. At the very least they’re not susceptible to losing, evidenced by a 15-match unbeaten run stretching back to Easter Sunday.
In a week when City weren’t participating in the crazy goalscoring exploits of the Capital One Cup, the ever hostile City-hunting media contrived a ‘shock horror’ tale that Mancini was allegedly on the verge of going to Monaco…nearly eight months ago.
The fact it was so long ago, didn’t happen and was never more than a remote possibility wasn’t going to deter a media hell-bent on undermining everything and anything to do with City.
And then we have Robin Van Persie ‘snubbing’ City 10 weeks ago in favour of United – hot breaking news…not. Sky Sports News conveniently omitting the fact that City dropped their interest long before RVP ‘listened to the little boy inside’ to fulfil his dreams of playing for Stretford Rangers.
Such errant nonsense. If that’s the best City’s Fergie-fawning foe can come up with then Khaldoon, Roberto & Co won’t be losing any sleep.
The only real blot on the season so far is a faltering Champions League campaign that is overshadowing a solid title defence.
But Europe can wait. First of all City go down the East End to a happy hunting ground of seasons past.
Having lost only one of their last dozen encounters with West Ham – and only one in the last six at Upton Park, City have good reason for optimism. Optimism, however, should not be mistaken for arrogance.
Under Allardyce, West Ham have done surprisingly well in their return to the top flight. Lying ninth in the PL with a creditable 14 points, the Hammers are not to be under estimated.
The on-loan Andy Carroll can, on his day be virtually unplayable, so Vincent Kompany and whoever partners him at centre back will need to be back to their best. Joleon Lescott has served City well and cemented an England starting berth, but Mancini obviously has huge faith in the up and coming Mitija Nastasic. Who will get the nod?
Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan will give their all in the middle of the park and if Matt Jarvis is on his game he can give many a full back a torrid time.
This game will turn on whether or not West Ham can summon up a top drawer performance and catch City on a sub-standard day.
If Carlos Tevez is in the starting line-up for an emotional return to his former club it bodes well for the visitors. City don’t lose whenever Tevez scores in the PL – 30 wins and three draws are testimony to a remarkable pattern of play.
A third away win is well within City’s compass whether it be stylish or pragmatic in the making. A victory of any kind will consolidate City’s standing in the top three.
Whatever the outcome, Mancini and his men will continue to confound the snipers and forge ahead in their quest for a second consecutive title.