View from the Opposition: Strength in depth is key for Manchester City
- Credit: AP
Norfolk-based Manchester City supporter Richard Avery hopes to see some of his club's fringe stars shine against Norwich City.
What have you made of City's first half of the season?
City started the season looking like they would have the title wrapped up by Christmas. But injuries to key players have caused their form to wobble, with Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta all serially unavailable and other players in and out. At home, they look strong and Manuel Pellegrini will be delighted with their form in Europe. Away from home, however, they have only won once in their last eight games, scoring just five goals. They'll need to regain the consistency that characterised their two recent title winning seasons to mount a genuine challenge.
Where will the FA Cup sit in Manuel Pellegrini's priorities?
For me, not as high as the title and Europe. Pellegrini will definitely want to secure some silverware and they're currently still in with a chance to win the title, the League Cup, the FA Cup and Champions League. However, you certainly don't hear any talk of even a double let alone a treble. City last won the FA Cup under Roberto Mancini five years ago – and indeed have won only once since 1969 – so that might indicate how much value they put against it. Europe is still the key goal – and perhaps the only thing that will save Pellegrini.
How strong do you think the team will be for the visitors?
I think he'll definitely keep a few key players on the bench and make changes dependent on how the game goes. Willy Caballero will be in goal but I would be surprised to see either David Silva or Aguero start. Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling will be in and Jesus Navas will inject some of the pace they lacked against Everton. Eliaquim Mangala is likely to be rested which will mean Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi at the back. Expect too to see Wilfired Bony back from injury but on the bench.
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Do you think City will reach the Capital One Cup final, after losing the first leg of the semi-final at Everton?
Yes I think that Pellegrini will be confident they can overhaul the one-goal deficit. And of course, if results don't go their way over the next week or so, the League Cup may be their strongest opportunity to secure that much needed trophy for this season. It wouldn't surprise me to see a full strength side play Everton at the Etihad later this month.
Is the shadow of Pep Guardiola already looming large over Pellegrini?
If you believe some elements of the Manchester press and City fan base, Pep is already in measuring the carpets. There's even a wish list of players – though it seems to be getting longer every day. Certainly City play the style of football that Pep likes, and two former close allies in Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain are both at the club. I would think that without a successful league and more importantly European campaign, City will seek to make a change at the end of the season.
Do you think a title challenge is still on the cards?
Twenty games in and City are third with equal best goal difference. And at the moment, no team is showing any signs of pulling away from the pack. So yes a title challenge is definitely on, but it will all boil down to key players' fitness. Without the spine of Joe Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero, Man City have struggled with consistency. And Pellegrini will have some difficult choices to make in team selection.
Do you expect Norwich to provide a tough challenge?
Yes. Norwich are always tough and despite some good results at Carrow Road over the last couple of seasons, Norwich know Man City are vulnerable at the back and have exploited this in the past. Norwich are coming off the back of an excellent run whilst Man City are as inconsistent away from home as they've ever been. And of course Pellegrini has another game against Everton next Wednesday in the league to think about.
Which of the Canaries' players could cause City problems?
Nathan Redmond is quick and could certainly ask questions of the Man City defence. If he can link up with Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan then all the frailty that Man City have shown at the back will be exposed. I doubt that Man City will keep a clean sheet.
Do you think Norwich will avoid relegation?
Yes. I think Norwich will provide another year of nail-biting last fixtures, but they're good enough and strong enough to stay up. They had a great Christmas and that's made their survival chances much stronger.
And finally, what is your prediction?
3-2 to Man City. And sticking my neck out, a couple of decisions that will give fans on both sides plenty to talk about including a penalty.