It’s going to be difficult, but I’m going to try writing this match preview without slipping in any sort of cynicism about City’s situation. As strange as it might be that a club who, not that long ago, did us out of a chance of promotion to the second flight are now able to spend £30m plus cash on a semi-failed galactico, they are still Man City and they still haven’t beaten us since that day in 1999.
The championship manager generation will, understandably, have that record ending this weekend what with the aforementioned Robinho, a couple of his Brazilian muckers and Ian Wright’s lad in the side. However, City are still a long way from being the side that their backing suggests they might become and a quick look around the tipsters suggests that the smarter money has Latics in with a chance.
And why not, we’re in a five game unbeaten run, have the league’s top goalscorer in our ranks and can look back to game against Chelsea where we should have broken our ‘big team’ duck. The result for this one will depend on how Latics perform, if we can get up to the form that we showed prior to the Spurs game then it may not even matter how well City play.
Bold words? Maybe so, especially from someone who hasn’t seen Latics play in the flesh thus far this season, but with a full(ish) squad to pick from and Steve Bruce having shown he can motivate his players for the big games more effectively than his predecessors you’d be daft to rule out Latics’ chances.
The main challenge will be stopping the visitors scoring and with Scharner and Bramble around the team that might not be easy. Then again Titus has followed his own goal against Sunderland with two strong performances and if he can pull another one off here then, combined with the return of Catermole, our goal might have enough protection to allow our own attack a bit of free reign.
Zaki, in particular will be looking forward to the chance to keep his run of form up against a defence that has hardly shone this season and a club that has been generous to Latics over the last few seasons.
I might not be so bullish, had City managed to follow their trashing of Pompey with something similar against Brighton. However, Portsmouth’s showing against Chelsea suggest that they may have been as much the architects of their own downfall as anything else and City’s inability to dispatch the Championship side will have been a blow to their confidence.
So what’s the conclusion? It’s a hard one to call, there will be people out there who will expect and welcome City’s samba stars to take Latics apart, but the reality is that we have the ability to make the most of their weaknesses. It could easily go either way but (like most people it seems) I reckon a draw is most likely.
Where I differ from the main is that I can’t see this being a toe-to-toe type affair, Mark Hughes will remember the five goals that his previous side conceded at the JJB last season and Bruce will be wary of the flair available to the opposition. I see the opening exchanges being fairly cagey, and unless there’s an early goal then we could be looking at another nil-apiece.
As it goes, your Not a patch on prediction is a one-all draw.
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