Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 18 – West Brom

City will be buzzing after coming home from Paris with a draw and two crucial away goals, but things are tense in the Premier League. Any more slip-ups and we could be facing no Champions League football in our first year under Guardiola. This weekend the Etihad welcomes West Brom and Tony Pulis loves to make things as difficult as possible.

Ahead of the game, we spoke to Birmingham Mail blogger Andrew Benbow about West Brom, their season so far, and this weekend’s fixture.

First of all, can you sum up your thoughts on West Brom’s season? You’re obviously a well established Premier League club, but is now the time to kick on?

It has been a satisfactory season and our main goal has been achieved without any real scares, but it has also been achieved without any excitement. When you have Tony Pulis as manager you generally know what to expect, but a little entertainment wouldn’t go amiss. That said the results can’t be faulted. Pulis deserves huge credit in getting to 40 points with seven games to spare – it is a fantastic achievement given our current squad. It is also a significant improvement on the state of the club under the previous two managers and so it would be harsh to say we haven’t kicked on, although stabilised is probably a better word.

For next season we need to add some attacking options – seven games without a shot on target tells its own dismal story.

Salomon Rondon arrived as your record signing in the summer, how has he settled in so far, and how is his partnership with Saido Berahino coming along?

He’s a likeable guy, but he hasn’t been a slam dunk success. He has shown willing but not really the quality to match. While it is true that he doesn’t get great service, he also doesn’t make things happen, and his touch leaves something to be desired. I am hopeful that we haven’t yet seen his best though. He still looks like he may hit double figures this season, and there may be more to come.

There have been hints that Rondon and Berahino could work as a partnership, but no more than that, and they haven’t had all that much game time as a genuine front two. With Berahino most likely set to move on, unfortunately they probably never will.

What are your thoughts on City as a club?

Having watched us bump around in the lower leagues with City I was happy to see the newfound riches carry you to glory. I know a couple of City fans and didn’t begrudge them the success we all crave. For a big club City also tend to carry themselves well. You have had a string of likeable managers, and a core of players – Kompany, Silva, Aguero – who are also a credit to the club. The pursuit of Guardiola has been a little unseemly though, and it is depressing that the only talk I seem to see is about the millions of pounds that he will spend to fix City’s problems. If he is a great coach does he really need the money? It would be nice to see your very impressive academy set up start to bring players through, rather than relying on your rich benefactors.

Following on from the last question, if you could have any player from us, who would it be?

Does anyone ever not pick Aguero? It might be painful to watch him in this Albion side though, isolated from everyone having balls lumped in his general direction. Due to our lack of midfield creativity it may be that De Bruyne would improve us more, but I think I would still take Aguero.

Are there any weak areas in the West Brom side that City can exploit on Saturday?

Defensively we are very solid, although also rather slow. We play with centre backs in the full back roles, and so in theory we can be attacked with pace down the flanks. In truth we will be so deep that this is hard, and we will encourage you to play crosses from out wide into the box. Our weak point may turn out to be a lack of ambition – if I was Pellegrini I would go all guns blazing from the start. We lack the pace to break once we get boxed in, so you won’t suffer from a gung ho approach.

Finally, what’s your team and prediction for Saturday’s game?

The remainder of this season should be used by Pulis to show those fans who are wavering about buying season tickets, due to the quality of football on display, that he does have the ability to set up a team that can attack and excite the supporters. That said, despite Man City surely now being focused on PSG and with us potentially having the freedom that comes with our main goal being achieved, I don’t expect us to try and shock you with a different approach. I hope we will, and I feel that if we did you just never know, but I am confident that you will face two banks of four, with Berahino also dropping deep, with our ‘outlet’ being long balls to Rondon. It worked at Everton, and got us a 0-0 against the might of Sunderland last week, but I don’t see it working on Saturday. In the increasingly distant past we held the whip hand over City, but I don’t see our eight game losing streak to you being snapped. 2-0 to City.

Predicted team: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Chester, Sandro, Yacob, Gardner, Fletcher, Berahino, Rondón

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