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Will 20 be plenty for pragmatic Pep?

With more records on the go than the vinyl section at HMV, Manchester City aren’t interested in ‘singles’ they only do ‘LPs’ - long plays - and they insist on playing them right until the very end.

Of recent times it’s been DJ ‘Worth Every Pound’ Sterling mixing it on the decks, getting in the groove and leaving City’s opponents in a right old spin.

As resident host of City’s Late Late Show, Raheem has struck winners in the 96th, 84th and 88th minutes against Southampton, Huddersfield and Feyenoord.

Put that trio of goals alongside Sterling’s 97th minute winning strike against Bournemouth and 82nd minute equaliser against Everton in August, and you’d be forgiven for thinking City’s rampaging winger had something personal against those who have the ‘temerity’ to leave before the final whistle blows.

Obviously that’s not the case, Sterling is simply doing his job, while personifying City’s mantra of more recent times where they ‘Fight ‘Till The End’ - a chant that may need upgrading to ‘We’ll score at the end…’ - if the present phenomenon continues.

Fair to say Pep and the boys have ‘tuned up’ just about everyone they’ve faced this season, as they strive to complete their very own 'Top 20 Smash Hits' against West Ham United today.

And, when it comes to staying the distance, Pep is adamant the ‘C’ word will not creep into City’s vocabulary.

After setting club records with 19 consecutive wins, including 11 away wins, eight successive Premier League away victories, 27 games unbeaten – 21 of those in the league – Guardiola insists complacency will not be a factor.

City have 12 Premier League wins on the bounce, just one shy of the record in a single season and two short of Arsenal’s all time record 14 match run, between February and August 2002.

Having plundering 40 points – the highest haul ever from the opening 14 matches – City need to win this afternoon and keep their eight point lead at the top of the table.

Speaking, almost prophetically, after the 2-1 win at Huddersfield, Pep said: ‘Winter is here…’ It sounded dramatic.

It sounded like a man who had learned harsh lessons last time out. It sounded like a man ready to take on a gruelling nine game schedule in 29 days of December and emerge victorious.

Pep’s refusal to compromise his principles and football philosophy has served City well, averaging more than three goals per league game, blasting fives, a six and a seven, past hapless opponents.

The attacking blitzkriegs had seen opponents capitulate early, but recent wins have come via a more attritional process. City’s relentless attacking intent has needed to be aligned to endless patience, before finally reaping the rightful rewards.

Wins 17,18 and 19 – each by a single goal margin – owe much to a fear of City’s attacking prowess, bus-parking defensive tactics and a subliminal inferiority complex.

Understandable – if far from laudable – from the likes of Huddersfield, Feyenoord and, to a lesser degree, Southampton, it’s now manifesting itself within the self proclaimed ‘biggest club in the world’ - the Trafford Troglodytes.

Just absorb the outrageous comment of United’s Paul Pogba when asked how the Swamp Dwellers might close the points gap on City.

“Some day I hope City are going to slip and I hope, and I know that it’s bad to say things like that, but I hope for us that some very important players get injured.”

It beggars belief that United’s ‘star’ player is saying the only way they can hope to compete, is for City’s best players to suffer long-term injuries.

Not only does it convey a sinister overture in respect of his fellow professionals, it also demonstrates a lack of belief in Mourinho and United’s ability to challenge for the title.

Pogba’s malice and stupidity is matched only by his petulance and ignorance.

Not only did the Těte de merde manage to avoid facing City by getting himself sent off at Arsenal last night, he also managed to overlook City have, and are, already missing key players through injury.

Benjamin Mendy ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament – one of the worst injuries for any footballer – in September, and is likely ruled out until April.

Captain Vincent Kompany has missed virtually three months with yet another calf injury, while hamstring victim John Stones could miss a dozen games.

Add in the ramifications of Sergio Aguero’s Dutch taxi cab crash and Ilkay Gundogan’s late start to the season after being sidelined for nine months recovering from an ACL injury, and it’s clear that Pogba isn’t the sharpest knife in the box.

Talking of knives, the FA seem to have them out for Pep following his conversation, albeit animated, with Southampton’s Nathan Redmond at the end of City’s 2-1 win on Wednesday night.

Redmond has already gone public and rubbished malicious media reports that Pep verbally abused him, stating the City boss was actually complimenting him on his play.

This would be the same FA who effectively sanctioned the actions of United’s Romelu ‘KickerBollocksGlory’ Lukaku, after he kicked Brighton’s Bong in the ‘groin area’ and got off scot free.

Maybe if Pep had cracked Nathan in the nuts there’d be no investigation and no possibility of any charge to answer?

Who knows, United – aided by their very own FA ‘Insider’ David Gill – may contest Pogba’s dismissal? An explanation of ‘over exuberance’ or Hector Bellerin’s leg simply ‘getting in the way’ should do the trick and see the red card rescinded.

Gary Lineker on BBC Match Of The Day said of Pogba: “He’s now going to miss Manchester City, probably…”

Probably? Maybe Lineker has been tipped off that the FA Panel, which exonerated Lukaku, is poised to reconvene with the ‘Innocent’ verdict already in the brown paper envelope?

Given the identity of the ref for City’s match at the Etihad today, United might not even bother to appeal.

It might be easier to let Mike ‘It’s All About Me’ Dean, try to balance things with a red card for Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva, or what the heck, both?

With Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho and Leroy Sane all just a booking away from a one–match ban, plus Dean being the match official, would it be wise for Pep to rest the trio?

A starting XI of Ederson, Walker, Delph, Mangala, Otamendi, Gundagon, Sterling, Silva, De Bruyne, Aguero and Jesus should surely be enough to secure the three points over the struggling Hammers.

It’s a game that should see City legend Pablo Zabaleta return to a tumultuous reception from the home crowd. Zaba will forever have a place in the hearts of the City faithful, but one Hart – Joe – will be missing, as his loan agreement precludes him from playing against his parent club.

A 20th straight win will set City up for the much anticipated derby, while also stretching their advantage over a once much fancied title challenging Spurs, to an incredible, almost unthinkable, 18 points, after just 15 games.

As for those records, a pragmatic Pep will surely make wholesale changes for the final Champions League Group F encounter in the Ukraine on Wednesday.

Yes, of course it’ll be great to carry on winning, but with top slot already guaranteed, Guardiola could rest the vast majority – if not all of those – who will start the game at the Theatre of Screams a week today.

First things first, City need to stay on track and, even with Sterling’s currency riding high, not leave it until the late eighties or nervous nineties to secure the win.

By David Walker @djwskyblu

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