Premier League | Etihad Stadium | Mon 21 Apr | 8pm
(Another) perfect pick-me-up for Anfield-rapped City…
Who saw that coming? Well, Uri Geller apart, not many. In four days, Manchester City have gone from arguably title favourites to cast-offs doomed to endure a meaningless season’s end. The football world can be an especially harsh one at this time of year.
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 2-2 S'land (Prem)
- Liverpool 3-2 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 4-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-1 Man City (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-3 Man City (Prem)
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 3-3 Tottenham (Prem)
- Norwich 0-1 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Swansea 1-2 WBA (Prem)
So can the football press. In the aftermath of Wednesday’s 2-2 home draw with rock-bottom Sunderland, many journalists were quick to tread that well-known link between a footballer’s weekly stipend and the impossibility that someone who earns £150,000 a week could get tired towards the end of the season. Surely City’s players could just eat some money for energy, right?
The mental anxiety that has followed Sunday’s defeat at Anfield is understandable: losing what was billed as a title decider inside the last 10 minutes is enough to inspire any hangover.
That said, five victories – with the pressure now off their shoulders – from City’s remaining fixtures this term could still be enough to secure a second Premier League title in three years.
Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero may be a mixture of injured or recovering from injury, but there’s still enough quality to push Liverpool and Chelsea and win this most exciting of leagues.
For West Brom, this game is massive. The league’s undoubted draw specialists, the Baggies sit just three points above the markedly improving Fulham in the race to avoid the drop.
The Midlanders’ 3-3 draw with Spurs last weekend – having gone 3-0 up – served notice of this disappointing campaign’s recurring theme, giving away leads.
They have lost just three of the last 10 under Pepe Mel, but won only two. Indeed, they’ve claimed only six wins all season. Problems that afflicted Steve Clarke have persisted under the Scot’s replacement.
Matej Vydra looks too lightweight as a line-leader, but with Chris Brunt back from injury, the Baggies are creative enough. It’s further back that the demons lie. Perhaps like City against Sunderland, as soon as one goal goes in, there’s a “here-we-go-again” feeling that accompanies every attack.
With such mental fragility on both sides, it could make for an intriguing 90 minutes.
Rested against Sunderland, Silva will have a late fitness test, while Toure and long-term absentee Matija Nastasic are out. For West Brom, Zoltan Gera remains on the treatment table, with Jonas Olsson confident of being fit in time to feature and James Morrison facing a test on an ankle injury.
Player to watch: David Silva (Man City)
For the last six weeks, the little Spaniard has been City’s best player by a country mile, his form peaking in a majestic second-half performance against Liverpool. Directly involved in both goals – scoring one and crossing for Glen Johnson to knock into his own net for the other – he was a dodgy Aguero pass away from turning the game and title race on its head. This near unplayable 30-minute cameo highlighted what he brings to this team: control on the edge of the opposition box. His interplay with Samir Nasri and James Milner pushed the Reds back into their defensive third, allowing Pellegrini’s side to camp in front of the Kop.
Missing for the 2-2 home draw against Sunderland with an ankle injury, this knock and his subsequent absence was just as sorely felt by his team-mates. With City reverting to the 4-4-2 that served them so well early in the season, they lacked the incision with precision high up the pitch. Alvaro Negredo, playing alongside Aguero, only managed to complete 4 of 9 passes: the control that Silva brings was lost, and with it, potentially the league title. Pellegrini will be hoping he’s fit to face the Baggies.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 2-3 Man City (Prem, Dec 13)
- Man City 1-0 WBA (Prem, May 13)
- WBA 1-2 Man City (Prem, Oct 12)
- Man City 4-0 WBA (Prem, Apr 12)
- WBA 0-0 Man City (Prem, Dec 11)
Two of La Liga’s most experienced tacticians who are coming to the end of their first seasons in English football, Manuel Pellegrini and Pepe Mel will approach this game knowing it’s must-win. Mel is under pressure, with stories circulating that his time in the Premier League may be up in the summer.
Pellegrini will definitely return for another season, but must learn the lessons from what will be a underwhelming season – despite the League Cup win – if City finish third, as looks increasingly possible.
Facts and figures
- Man City have won 12 of 13 home games against bottom-six teams since 2011/12.
- 7 of City’s last 10 home games against bottom-six teams have had at least 4 goals.
- WBA have trailed 1-0 or 2-0 in each of their last 8 trips to top-six teams.
- 60% of City’s 35 home games since start of last season have had more goals in the second half than first.
City to get back to winning ways. 2-0.