Having come within 90 minutes of topping the Premier League at Christmas, Manchester City could find themselves six points behind leaders Chelsea when they kick off on Boxing Day.
Such fine margins illustrate the task facing Manuel Pellegrini’s side, as they go for their seventh PL win on the spin and ninth consecutive victory.
After confounding their critics, overcoming the odds in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico and progressing in the Champions League, a trip to the Boing Boing Baggies shouldn’t hold any fears, even for an injury-riddled City who boast the best away record in the division.
The Hawthorns has been a happy hunting ground in recent years with the visitors winning on three of their last four trips, the only blemish being a 0-0 stalemate on Boxing Day 2011.
Hovering two points above the relegation places, Albion have just one win in their last seven games, so City have the form book as well as history in their favour.
But complacency – rather like overindulging on mince pies – could have disruptive consequences for City if they were to lose focus over the festive period. It may be a time for giving, but that doesn’t extend to the goals against column.
With the entire strike force still stricken with injuries, City’s increasingly miserly defence would do well to keep the Scrooge impersonations going a while longer.
A fifth consecutive clean sheet – against an Albion side that has failed to score in seven of their 17 league games – wouldn’t go amiss.
Perversely, with Aguero, Dzeko, Jovetic and Kompany all sidelined, Manuel Pellegrini does have the option of naming an unchanged side after comprehensively polishing Palace off 3-0.
Gael Clichy has recovered from the knock that kept him out of the win over Neil Warnock’s team and, if Pellegrini is concerned about Albion’s attacking speed down the flanks, the Frenchman could replace Aleksander Kolarov.
The trade off is the Serbian’s often lethal left foot, as he cracks in first time crosses that have opponents running for cover.
Martin Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala should continue their burgeoning central defensive partnership, albeit Captain Kompany could be back for Burnley’s visit to Manchester on Sunday.
Always a welcome addition to City’s Ministry of Defence, the Belgian Boulder is an integral vertebra in the team’s spine, a backbone far too often compromised by injury this season. That said, if City are keeping it tight at the back, it would be foolhardy to rush the skipper back too soon.
Kompany’s title-winning partner of 2011/12, Joleon ‘He’s Top of the League’ Lescott, will be facing up to his former team mates for the first time since leaving the Etihad last summer.
He should receive a warm reception from the 3,000 strong travelling support and more than likely receive a yuletide rendition of his former ‘ditty’…however it doesn’t quite work so well when sitting at 15th place in the league table!
One ex-blue who could feature and won’t get the full peace and goodwill gig is Greek forward Georgios Samaras.
The ex-Celtic striker made disparaging comments and unfavourable comparisons between City and his Glaswegian employers when he left Manchester in 2008.
Having scored a paltry 8 goals in 54 league appearances, ‘Gorgeous George’ was more prolific in Scotland’s top tier with 52 in 155 games. That said, my Granny could score in the SPL…and she’s been dead since 1985.
Operating without any specialist forwards didn’t do City any harm last Saturday, so expect to see David Silva, Samir Nasri, James Milner and Yaya Toure in action in the Black Country, as well as the man of the moment – Jesus.
With the games coming just days apart, a fit again Jovetic is in contention for a return against Burnley, whereas the truly world class Pablo Zabaleta could rotate with Bacary Sagna at right back, to offset any tired limbs.
If City can bag the Boxing Day spoils and beat off a Baggies side that has registered only four PL home wins in the whole of 2014 – not just this season – they’ll be set fair to achieve their manager’s target of a 100% win ratio since November’s international break.
Back in the wake of an incident packed 2-2 dogfight with QPR at a waterlogged Loftus Road, such an achievement seemed unlikely to say the least, but City have not only persevered, they’ve prospered despite the prolonged absences of Silva, Aguero, Dzeko, Kompany and Jovetic.
Yaya has been suspended from critical Champions League encounters and yet it’s been miles of smiles in the finest tradition of the ‘Carry On’ films – Carry on Winning is a hit with Sky Blue supporters and lovers of attacking football.
And as families up and down the country scoff tins of Quality Street and jars of Celebrations chocolates, City fans could have something even sweeter to savour if the club unwrap news of Super Frankie Lampard’s extended stay.
In a once unthinkable affair with Manchester City, after divorcing himself from his marriage with Chelsea, Lamps has been a revelation with his quality goals and performances, leading to plenty of on and off field celebrations.
How ironic if something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue proves to be the difference between Frank’s new flame and the self-confessed love of his football life, come May 24th, 2015. If City edge it there sure as hell won’t be any Terry’s All Gold on the menu!
By David Walker
In conjunction with Manchester City Football Club, Read But Never Red has been running a competition to give one lucky City fan a superb Christmas surprise – TWO TICKETS for the MCFC Legends Stadium & Club Tour, worth £140.
We received dozens upon dozens of entries – the overwhelming majority of which correctly answered the question – how many first team games did Jeff Whitley play for City? Jeff, who is one of City’s brilliant line-up of Legends Tour hosts, made 133 League, Cup & Play-Off appearance.
The winning entry from RBNR reader, Ian Steggles, was drawn by City Business Development Executive David Smith, who has special responsibility for all club tours.
Congratulations Ian you’re in for a great experience and City will be in direct contact with you after the festive period.
And finally…sincere thanks you to all of you who – for whatever reasons – read RBNR, especially to those who take the time and effort to post comments, re-tweet, favourite, share or like the blog on social media.
Merry Christmas & A Happy Sky Blue New Year.
Dedicated to the memory of John Lovell Anderton, my Grandad and an avid Grimsby Town fan, born Christmas Day in 1900. He introduced me to football on the terraces at Blundell Park and the war cry of ‘Up The Mariners’. More latterly, to a true blue Darren ‘Gio’ Giovannetti who is older, but probably none the wiser this very day.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu