Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 16 December 2017
Referee: Craig Pawson
Kick off: 17:30
Win after win. Record after record. It’d be fair to say that prior to this campaign starting, nobody in their wildest dreams could’ve imagined that City would be sat 11 points clear on December 16, having dropped just two points in the league all season; oh, and let’s not forget that City have won every other game in all competitions, bar a dead rubber game in Ukraine. It really is the stuff that dreams are made of. Inexplicably though, that permanent feeling of pessimism is always present with City fans; the feeling that the side can’t afford a slip-up remains ever present, despite the fact that they could a full-on face-plant before things got particularly worrying. It’s the turn of Tottenham to try and stop City on Saturday. So, what are the main talking points ahead of the game?
Did the derby give City a second wind?
On Wednesday night, Pep Guardiola’s side ended a run of four consecutive 2-1 wins in the league; they did so with a resounding 4-0 win against bottom-placed Swansea. The result, but perhaps more the performance, begs the question: did winning at Old Trafford last week give City a fresh bout of stamina and belief? Since City’s visit to Huddersfield Town, it’d be fair to say that the side have done things the hard way. Nevertheless, 12 points were secured out of a possible 12. Of the four games, three were won with less than ten minutes to and prior to Sunday’s Manchester derby, a question was beginning to be asked of City. Were the would-be Champions tiring? I think it’s a completely fair question. Consider the run that City are on, perhaps even more so than the physical fatigue it brings, the drain that the sequence has had mentally shouldn’t be downplayed. Of course, winning every week is fantastic for confidence; but with expectation level now so high, could it be getting to the players? Either way, they responded without dropping a point in league football. Despite some shaky performances, we got the job done.
The Manchester derby should’ve provided a different kind of challenge to the games City had played before it. Instead of a side sticking 11 behind the ball and playing to defend, City played United, who needed to win. Perhaps surprisingly though, United adopted a similar approach to Huddersfield, West Ham and Southampton, playing largely defensive football. City got the job done, and turned their attention to Swansea. What followed was a reminder of City’s attacking prowess and firepower. 4 fantastic goals and a performance that had pundits purring led to a new question: had City’s huge derby win given them a new lease of life? I think the answer to that question will be answered on Saturday, against Spurs. Pep and his side dismantled Swansea, but with the Welsh outfit sat on the bottom of the Premier League table, it’s hard to decide whether it’s a new City revitalisation or the poor opposition we faced in midweek. Nevertheless, City keep on winning; another victory against a title rival on Saturday could begin to really demoralise (if they aren’t already) those below us.
It’s time for Eliaquim Mangala to sink or swim
Eliaquim Mangala – I would love to say that he divides opinion, but he doesn’t really. Since Joleon Lescott’s departure from the club, City had been looking for a centre-back to partner Vincent Kompany. However, circumstances changed somewhat and now, the partnership of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi looks both stylish and sturdy. Kompany’s never-ending injury crisis’ make him impossible to rely on, and despite the blasphemous nature of the comment: I think it’s time that City cash in their chips on the skipper, and find some younger blood. Mangala isn’t that. Yes, he was bought to play alongside Kompany, but he now finds himself in the same position as our club captain: out of favour and destined to be replaced. Despite that, Mangala finds himself in a position to have one final shot at redemption. Such circumstances have unsurprisingly come about as a result of a Vincent Kompany injury, but nevertheless, the Frenchman has found himself in a position to potentially salvage his City career.
Before the game at United, Mangala’s cameos this season had been underwhelming for the most part; and when the sometimes-clumsy centre-half was thrown on in probably the most important game of the season, it’d be fair to say that I, and many others, feared the worst. Mangala though, impressed. His performance was stable; he won the majority of his aerial battles and made a vital tackle to break down a dangerous United attack. He then completed 90 minutes in Swansea on Wednesday, where City kept an albeit comfortable clean sheet. The real test though, could come on Saturday against Tottenham. Mangala’s presence will depend on the fitness of Vincent Kompany, but presuming he’s not ready for the game, it should be a centre-back pairing of Otamendi and Mangala. Headed by one of the league’s best strikers, Spurs will focus plenty of their attacks down City’s left side in an attempt to isolate and expose. If Mangala does play, it really does become a case of sink or swim. A strong performance could see him earn some more minutes over a busy Christmas period. Alternatively, a disaster showing could see someone like Tosin Adarabioyo move into contention instead.
The upcoming games offer the three squad players a chance
All season long, I’ve been waiting for the likes of Danilo, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan to kick into gear and start challenging the starting XI for a place. Unfortunately, none of the trio have really taken their chance when it has been presented to them. Danilo has found life tough since joining in the summer; he’s often played out of position and used as more of a utility man than a rotational right-back. Nevertheless, his performances haven’t been good enough, be it on the right or the left. The full-back seems predominantly one-sided which begs the question: how was he viewed as a two-sided full-back in the first place? When the Brazilian international has played in right-back, he’s shown glimpses of quality, but a stifling lack of consistency has meant that Kyle Walker’s place as City’s first-choice right-back has never been under threat.
For Ilkay Gundogan, things have been difficult for a number of reasons. Ilkay’s injuries have provided the German with only a few opportunities to impress during his 18 months at City. However, since returning from his latest absence, Gundogan just hasn’t been good enough to nail down a place. At times, it looks as though the central-midfielder is erring on the side of caution, as to not re-injure himself. In fairness, that kind of caution is welcome, to a degree. The flip side though, is that without possessing the same level of intensity as Fernandinho, Gundogan really does have no chance of starting regularly for City this term.
Bernardo Silva has had a lacklustre start to his City career, and his disappointing performances have perhaps been the most surprising negative on an otherwise near-perfect season. For Bernardo, he struggled to see game-time early on, which I believe helped him to evade criticism for what were essentially very safe, very ordinary performances. However, in the last month or so, Bernardo has had a few more chances in the starting XI; before Wednesday night though, the Portuguese international had failed to make an impression. With a very busy schedule ahead in December, the congestion offers the three players a chance to play more games, impress Pep and slowly bed themselves into a squad that requires an incredibly high standard of performance from every cog in the machine.
Tottenham are having a bit of a strange season. They find themselves sat in 4th place in the league, with a relatively ordinary away record, especially when you consider their strength away from home in previous seasons. Despite less than perfect league form, Spurs have been incredible in the Champions League, topping a group that included last year’s winners Real Madrid. It won’t be an easy game for City, especially with the likes of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son in good form.
I’m not expecting Spurs to come and sit back on Saturday, though of course they’ll have their defensive wits about them. Still, I feel that City will dominate the all and should carve out enough chances for the win. I’m going for 3-1 City, with goals from Sergio Aguero (2) and Raheem Sterling.