Venue: The Hawthorns
Date: 28 October 2017
Referee: Mike Jones
Kick off: 15:00
UK TV: Not on TV
Twelve straight wins. Oddly, I remember writing something relatively similar last year, after City’s hot start. This time though, things certainly feel different. With City looking defensively sturdy, and unstoppable going forward, Saturday gives Guardiola’s men the chance to open up an even larger gap between themselves and the chasing pack. A visit to Tony Pulis’ West Brom side is on the horizon, and City will have to have their wits about them to record another vitally important victory. So, what is there to consider?
Extra Time Taught Us Plenty
What could’ve been worse than being taken all the way to a last-ditch penalty shootout win on Tuesday night? Losing. When the draw was made, a home game against Wolves, with respect to our opponents, was viewed favourably by most City fans. A chance to rotate the side, giving the back-ups the opportunity to impress Guardiola and force their way into the first XI. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Wolves played excellently, and actually created probably the best three chances of the match. On another day, City would’ve been out of the cup before extra time ever reared its head.
There are two ways to look at the extra time that it took to dispatch Wolves though. On one hand, it’s frustrating. City should, on paper, have wrapped the game up before the 90 was out and given a few key players the opportunity to rest before another vital league game. The likes of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero were forced to play the entire game, which is less than ideal with regards to the preparation of our game on Saturday. Two of our highest goalscorers this season, whose involvement on Saturday will now be called into question. You could perhaps predict Pep’s starting XI for West Brom, purely based on the substitutions he made on Tuesday. Gabriel Jesus was hooked before the 90 was out, Bernardo Silva was also taken off. Perhaps the two of them are in Pep’s plans for Saturday, with Sterling and Aguero more likely to feature from the bench, if at all.
The other hand gives us a chance to view extra time more positively. Despite it only being a League Cup fourth round tie against a lower division side, the team spirit was there for all to see. Claudio Bravo grasped the opportunity to be a hero, and the players embraced him massively. There was a real feeling of grit and determination amongst the players, something that hasn’t always felt present in the last three or four years. If anything, perhaps a long-winded tie with Wolves taught us more about the mental strength of the squad more than anything else.
We Finally Have a Squad Full of Options
Prior to this season, I wrote a piece about the need for Pep to construct a powerhouse squad, full of heavy hitters. We’re perhaps not quite there yet, but we do now have a ton of options from the bench if things aren’t going our way.
After Bravo’s heroics in midweek, you finally get the impression that we have two goalkeepers who’re more than capable of adequately filling in between the sticks. Danilo and Kyle Walker offer us two excellent options at right-back. Fernandinho has a returning Ilkay Gundogan vying for a starting XI spot, and a little bit further back in the queue is the legendary Yaya Touré, albeit reaching the end of his lifespan at the club. On the wings, there is a ton of variation to consider. Sterling, Sané, Bernardo, Jesus, even De Bruyne if need be. In the centre, De Bruyne, Silva, Bernardo and Gundogan are all viable options. Aguero and Jesus are more than capable competing for the starting striker spot, but we have a player in Raheem Sterling who looks more comfortable centrally this season too, as well as possessing the goalscoring touch thus far.
You could definitely argue that with Benjamin Mendy’s injury, we’re still very short at left-back. Fabian Delph however, has done an incredible job of filling so far. Oleksandr Zinchenko was given a run-out at left-back on Tuesday, although it’s not a position I’d expect to see him in again too soon. In the centre of the defence, there is a still a shortage though. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi have been fantastic so far this year, but with Vincent Kompany injured indefinitely, it’s daunting to consider that our next options in that position are the vastly inexperienced Tosin Adarabioyo and the calamitous Elaquim Mangala. It’s something to consider in January, although I’d expect that those holes are more likely to be filled in the off-season.
With regards to the West Brom game, the aforementioned extra-time against Wolves could’ve been a massive hindrance in years gone by. But with the squad we currently possess, you’d imagine that Guardiola will have no trouble fielding an excellent XI, capable of coming away with three points.
The Game Offers a Rare Chance
Following City’s win against Burnley on Saturday, the league table looked as good as it has in a long time. United’s shocking loss at Huddersfield created a gap between first and second that means that City can afford to lose a game and still be guaranteed to remain in top spot. However, rather than looking at it as a safety net that allows City a poor result, it should be looked as an opportunity to create a monster gap between ourselves and our nearest rivals.
Prior to City’s game on Saturday, United face Tottenham at Old Trafford. It’s a rare occasion. We’re sat top of the league on 25 points, with second and third place squaring off on 20 points each. Chelsea are sat in 4th on 16 points for the time being, so nothing they do this week is going to change the top three. It all makes City’s game at West Brom vitally important for all of the best reasons. If we win, we are definitely going to increase our lead on either Tottenham or United. However, in a best case scenario, United and Tottenham could draw. With a City win, that’d leave us with an enormous seven point gap between ourselves and second-place heading into November.
Why is it so relevant? In both 2012 and 2014, City won the league title. However, in neither of those seasons did we hold the cards for the majority of the campaign. It took a miraculous recovery in 2012 to snatch the title away from United, and a fairly large overhaul in 2014 to get us over the line. Could this be the first year where we set the tempo from start to finish? Saturday provides us with an opportunity to continue to do so. Regardless of the results of the other games, City can gain more ground on their rivals, and really gain momentum in what’ll be a long, twisting title-race.
Tony Pulis’ sides are typically industrious, defensively sturdy and typically well-organised. However, City’s record at The Hawthorns has been fantastic over the years; Leroy Sané also scored twice just last month to give City a League Cup third round win. West Brom haven’t won in the league since 19 August either, so the form books seem to heavily hint at a City win. If the City of the last two months show up, we shouldn’t face too many hiccups.
I’m not superstitious, and whilst some people will say that we’re due a loss, and West Brom are due a win, I believe we’re in a prime position to record a 13th consecutive win. I’m going for 3-0 City; Jesus, Sané and Silva to score.