For the second time in the space of five weeks Manchester City face a tough domestic spat quickly followed by a more cultured contest on the continent – but they’ll need to do better this time out.
City’s star spangled squad has to cope with the blood and thunder of West Bromwich Albion and the subtle sophistication of Ajax in the next few days. It’s almost a carbon copy of away matches with Stoke and Real Madrid last month, but Roberto Mancini cannot afford a similar outcome.
WBA away is never an easy fixture for City irrespective of whether they are champs of the present or chumps of the past. Albion were the first team to stop free-scoring City finding the net in last season’s Premier League campaign – a repeat just won’t do!
It promises to be a stern test at The Hawthorns where a win for the Baggies would see them leapfrog City in the PL table.
Despite the expected absence of Silva, Garcia and Maicon and the air miles clocked up by Aguero and Zabaleta on international duty, City should still have enough to edge Steve Clarke’s men, albeit Albion have a 100% home record with four wins and sit just one point behind the champions.
A good result is important, but a win just four days later over Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena is an imperative for Mancini, as he strives to maintain City’s pulse in the Champions League Group D – the ‘D’ standing for Death.
The majority of City fans would put retaining their PL title above winning the Champions League this season, but Mancini’s Abu Dhabi bosses demand progress at least into the knockout stages, along with the revenues to move towards Financial Fair Play credibility.
One cannot but feel sympathy for Mancini after bagging City’s first significant silverware in more than three decades followed by the title after 44 barren years. A draw in the Midlands would, at a push, be acceptable, but another CL away day defeat would be totally unpalatable for Sheikh Mansour and leave City winless and rudderless in Group D.
The pain in the rear international break now over, City are in the unusual position of having a quartet of top names in Richards, Barry, Nasri and Tevez, completely rested having been overlooked by their national managers.
Kompany, Dzeko, Balotelli and Aquero all scored in the World Cup qualifiers and lest we forget, City are coming off the back of a 3-0 ‘slaughtering’ of Sunderland and running into form.
That said, City will – in football parlance – need to earn the right to play their silky sumptuous brand of the game, by ensuring WBA don’t get a foothold in the match.
In Long, Lukaku, Morrison and Odemwingie, the boys from the Black Country do have what it takes to hurt City.
Albion’s combative and vastly underrated Youssouf Mulumbu, will be looking to disrupt City’s rhythmic patterns and it may fall to Yaya Toure, fresh from the Ivory Coast’s riotous match against Senegal, to quell his counterpart from the Congo and prevent another African uprising.
The boisterous Baggie’s fans are as good as any ‘12th man’ in the PL and with City’s nemesis, referee Mark Clattenburg officiating, it could easily be 11 against 13 in no time at all.
It will be fast and physical but Mancini can select a team with the self belief, ability and resilience to continue City’s assault on the top of the table.
With three points hopefully bagged from the Baggies, Mancini can then switch to stealth, skill and a more sophisticated game plan to breathe life into City’s quest on the continent.