Premier League | Etihad Stadium | Sat 22 Mar | 3pm
A 2-0 win for Manchester City.
For all the talk of Manuel Pellegrini’s side being mired in season-ending crisis, the truth is altogether less opprobrious. Yes, they’ve been knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona and lost a psychologically crucial game to Chelsea, but most would agree both those teams are quite good at football.
MAN CITY FORM
- Hull 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Barca 2-1 Man City (CL)
- Man City 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
- Man City 3-1 S'land (LC)
- Man City 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
City have kept three successive league clean sheets since that 1-0 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s men – even with Martin Demichelis in tow and a Vincent Kompany red card last time out at Hull – and will move three points ahead of the leaders should they win their three games in hand. Some crisis. Though the captain will be suspended at the Etihad, Demichelis impressed in marshalling the City back four against the Tigers. Who knows, without the granite-sculpted skipper alongside him, Demichelis may resemble a footballer again.
Tired legs may increasingly become a factor as the season progresses – La Liga recruits Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas have looked jaded in recent weeks, while Sergio Aguero continues to be blighted by hamstring trouble – but at home to a Fulham side that won their first game since New Year’s Day against Newcastle last weekend, City shouldn’t have a problem.
When it’s mid-March and your club have only four more wins than permanent managers, you know you’ve not had the best of seasons. There is the odd green shoots of growth, however. Teenage forward Cauley Woodrow has looked lively in the Cottagers’ last two games, while Fernando Amorebieta’s surety in defence against Newcastle brought much-needed solidity to a previously porous back-line.
It’s goals where they most struggle, though. Darren Bent has rarely shone, Dimitar Berbatov has departed and, frankly, who knows where Kostas Mitroglou is. “Injured”, apparently.
Such is the predicament at Craven Cottage, despite that 1-0 win over the Magpies, it will require a form improvement reminiscent of 2007/08 proportions for the banks of the Thames to shimmer with Premier League football for another season. The catalyst for that great escape? A 3-2 win at Manchester City.
Kompany serves his one-match suspension, with Joleon Lescott likely to deputise at centre-back. Aguero’s hamstring keeps him out, as does the same muscle for Stevan Jovetic and Matija Nastasic’s knee.
A euphemistically troublesome knee means the Cottagers’ record signing Mitroglou is out. So, too, are Ashkan Dejagah, Scott Parker, Giorgios Karagounis and Damien Duff.
Key battle: David Silva vs Johnny Heitinga
Dutch defender Heitinga is set to play in his 399th game as a professional and must use all his experience to negate the tricky Spaniard’s insouciant brilliance. Despite playing for 80 minutes with 10 men, Silva made the most attacking third passes against Hull, scored the opener and made the other in a typically creative display.
Moved to right-back against Newcastle, with Amorebieta partnering Brede Hangeland at centre-back, Heitinga brought renewed solidity to Felix Magath’s Fulham. They’ll need another diligent display at Eastlands.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Fulham 2-4 City (Prem, Dec 13)
- City 2-0 Fulham (Prem, Jan 13)
- Fulham 1-2 City (Prem, Sep 12)
- City 3-0 Fulham (Prem, Feb 12)
- Fulham 2-2 City (Prem, Sep 11)
Though the calm facade has slipped somewhat in recent weeks – especially against Barcelona – the courage of Pellegrini’s attacking convictions show no sign of waning. City remain one of the league’s most attractive sides to watch, down in no small part to the Alchemist-reading, piano-playing Chilean.
The difference with noted disciplinarian Magath – whose training sessions feature extensive fitness work, but little with the ball – couldn’t be much starker. It may have worked against the managerless Magpies last week, but for how long remains to be seen.
Facts and figures
- Man City have won 16 of their last 17 home matches against bottom-six teams.
- Fulham’s last 9 defeats have all been by more than 1 goal.
- Fulham have lost 0-2 in half their last 10 trips to top-six teams.
- Man City average 3.0 goals per game in the 20 home matches Aguero has started since the beginning of last season but just 2.0 goals per game in the 12 he’s missed.
Are you still here? We’ve already told you. 2-0 to City.