Venue: London Stadium
Date: 1 February 2017
Referee: Kevin Friend
Kick off: 19:45
At times this season, it’s admittedly been hard to find those little snippets of short-term optimism. However, following a convincing win away at Palace last weekend, I’m starting to feel like the signs of progression under Pep are just starting to shine through.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt about the ‘five-year plan’ or whatever, but this season has been a difficult one. Before said plan can be fulfilled, we have four very important months of football left. It’s West Ham away on Wednesday, and a repeat of our FA Cup Third Round game that ended with the Blues running out 5-0 winners. So, what are the talking points to consider?
Consistency In Team Selection
Against Palace on Saturday, we saw some of our attacking players take the initiative and earn us the win. Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané bagged themselves a goal each. Gabriel Jesus fired through a fantastic assist. David Silva ran the show. You can’t ask for a great deal more from your attacking outlets. The question now is, can we move forward with a more settled team? The first thing to take into account is that that front four isn’t settled. There’s no telling whether or not Sergio Aguero will be fit for Wednesday’s duel with the Hammers. If he’s 100%, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll be thrust back into the starting XI. From a personal point of view though, I’d do no such thing. Jesus, Sterling and Sané have earned their front three berths for at least another outing, so I’d keep things very much the same. I’d do the same with David Silva, who has enjoyed a resurgence of form of late. Behind him, Yaya Touré has been in good form and it’s hard to see why he’d be dropped. Fabian Delph on the other hand would probably be lucky to start tomorrow night. Kevin De Bruyne looks favourite to step into that role, although with Fernandinho returning, it’s gives Pep a bit of a selection dilemma. I’d leave Fernandinho on the bench and make him earn his shirt, especially after his foolish disciplinary problems. Defensively is where the team seems to be the least settled, and with Vincent Kompany unlikely to be risked for the second time in 5 days, there will probably be changes afoot. Willy Caballero has done next to nothing wrong when he’s played this season, though it’s hard to imagine that Pep will take the plunge and leave Bravo out.
The League Isn’t The Priority, But Is Still Massive Moving Forward
I know a lot of people will be holding out hope for a Chelsea collapse of epic proportions, but for me – there’s no chance. Even if I could see Antonio Conte’s mean completely throwing the league away, I’m not sure that City are anybody’s favourites to be the side who are putting the pressure on behind them. For me, the league is over. It has been for a while. However, that doesn’t take away from the importance of it to Pep and City’s longer-term plan. I’ve said in previous weeks, City should go all out for the FA Cup and see what happens in the Champions League, but securing a top four spot is integral too. Sure, the draw of being managed by Pep Guardiola is still a big one. However, finishing fifth or sixth will reduce the man’s stock slightly and ultimately leave City struggling to attract the names needed to start challenging on all fronts again. This is especially true when you consider just how many attractive propositions there are at the top of the Premier League. Whether you think that Pep is the number one coach globally or not, the reality is that Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, United and Liverpool are all pretty exciting places to go and play football too. If City are to miss out on Champions League football, it potentially puts the whole plan back a year, unless Pep is able to work his telephone magic and bring some top-level players in to play the Europa League. In fairness, it worked for United with Pogba and Ibrahimovic, but they had to pay astronomical wages to make it possible, which is a tactic City don’t seem to fully support at the moment. The importance of playing in Europe’s elite competition only heightens City’s need to put sides like West Ham to bed on Wednesday night. Three points are needed, and perhaps a good run to follow too.
Don’t Expect a Repeat of Round One
A few Fridays ago, City rocked up to the London Stadium for the first time ever. They brought a massive contingency of away supporters and destroyed West Ham. At times, it looked as if things might get out of hand, and scoring eventually stopped at five. There will be no such repeat on Wednesday. West Ham are on a decent bit of a form, and whilst that alone doesn’t guarantee us a more difficult game, there are other factors that do. For one, West Ham have made a couple of new signings, which often buoys any fanbase and club. Another thing to consider is that we won’t be able to roll up and execute the same plan as before. Pep is going to have to think hard about how he approaches this game, with the knowledge that West Ham will try to counter the threats that caused them to be undone so easily last time. All in all, I’m expecting a completely different performance from our hosts, and a much more difficult game for City. That doesn’t mean however, I’m not expecting a victory. West Ham’s massive pitch suits City down to the ground, and if Pep can tweak things slightly and find ways around the counter-punches that West Ham will throw, we have every chance of another productive night in London.
West Ham have successfully negotiated the tricky business of offloading Dimitri Payet for a very healthy bit of profit. Since the saga started, they’ve started picking up win after win, with Andy Carroll in particular looking like a new player. The arrivals of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass won’t do their chances any harm either.
I’m hopeful that the City that turned up to Goodison Park are locked away in a deep dark abyss somewhere. If the City that performed to such a high level against Spurs are around, I’m expecting a 3-1 City win. I also fancy Gabriel Jesus to score for the first time in City colours