Sunday, 3 January 2010

And now for a real test

With City despatching a woeful Middlesbrough side 1-0 to go through to the 4th round of the F.A. Cup, its three wins out of three for Roberto Mancini. I’ve been impressed with the new manager so far. It is easy to minimise his achievements and point to the lack of quality of opposition he has faced. But the Italian can only beat what is put in front of him, and more importantly for me, he has done so each time of asking without conceding a goal.

Nevertheless, we all know a much sterner test now lies in his immediate path.

Using the squad at the Riverside
Due to Hughes insistence on playing a full strength side in the League Cup, we have yet to really see a second string City team take the field in competitive competition this season. Yesterday saw us come closest to this, with Vladimir Weiss, Dedryk Boyata, Javier Garrido and Benjani all making their first starts of the campaign.

Boyata looked like he settled well, making a particularly important tackle in the first half. Weiss, although less impressive going forward than he has been in previous games, just needs more and more first team football in my opinion. Garrido and Benjani seem to be serving us well at present, and whilst I don’t think they are the future, they have certainly proved themselves useful to Mancini as squad players over the last couple of games as the Blues’ injury worries have increased.

I credit Mancini with his wider use of the squad. The match certainly didn’t sound pretty to watch and the highlights confirmed this, but another clean sheet just adds to the momentum we seem to be building up at the back. If Boro had been luckier, they might’ve drawn level. If City had been luckier, they might’ve had a hatful. The main thing is we won again, and without conceding.

The League Cup semi: will Mancini bringing back ‘the big guns’?
Of course, Mancini’s squad rotation is all in preparation for the biggest game of the season so far – next week’s League Cup semi final with Manchester United. Bellamy and Tevez are sure to return to our attack, as is Gareth Barry in midfield – and potentially SWP. The defence remains the big question for me, especially given the recent injury to Micah Richards and the question mark over the return of Nedum Onuoha. I personally think Stephen Ireland will be a big miss, as these are the kinds of games where we need players who understand what it means to play in a Manchester derby. Whatever happens, I think Mancini would be a fool not to turn to his strongest eleven available on the night.

Will Ferguson bring in ‘the kids’?
There’s been much talk of what team Ferguson will put out at Eastlands next Wednesday. Whatever team he puts out, it will certainly not be one that exhibits inexperience. Look at the team sheet for the last League Cup tie against Spurs: Kuszczak, Neville, Brown, Vidic, De Laet, Anderson, Park, Gibson, Berbatov, Wellbeck and Obertan (with Carrick, Macheda and Tosic all making substitute appearances). I’d highlight only De Laet, Obertan and to a lesser extent Wellbeck as the real ‘kids’ here. Moreover, Spurs played pretty much a full strength side that night. This tells us something of the quality of United’s depth.

Given the recent team against Leeds today, I expect the likes of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia to come back into the team. If they don’t, then I’d watch the bench.

The result?
For the die hards, there will be no question of a City win over the two legs. They will demand victory from this City team – now more than ever because the two squads have never been as close in terms of quality as they are today. The realists will point to the fact that this is United, and that the Blues need to be even more wary now that Ferguson’s men have tasted the bitter pill of defeat to lowly fierce rivals Leeds United.

No question about it, the Leeds defeat adds spice. Ferguson will have wanted to show Leeds the back of his hand, but with today’s blow he will now surely do everything in his power to avoid defeat at the hands of his club’s oldest rival – the Blue shirt of Manchester.

For City, the recent derby loss will still be clear in the players’ minds. Not many teams come back three times against United at Old Trafford, which makes our eventual demise to Michael Owen’s winner all the more difficult to stomach. Irrespective of the amount of injury time played, we should be using the notion of being ‘robbed’ at Old Trafford to our own motivational advantage.

And of course, notwithstanding the fact that this is cup tie, we have to add to the mix the unpredictability of what will also be two more Manchester derbies. Over the years these games have tended to run more on passion and drive rather than sublime pieces of skill. In this sense there is an air of irrelevance as to whether Mancini opts for ‘big guns’ of City or whether Ferguson starts with the ‘kids’ of United. It is about who keeps their nerve best and who is the more motivated to win at any cost.

Whatever happens, the whole tie is a tantalising prospect.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4/1/10 08:19

    Considering yesterdays result I believe "Taggart" will be playing his strongest side possible, expect to see the likes of Scoles, Giggs , Evra, Rooney back in the starting eleven alongside Park, Valencia. I also believe that he will play Vidic (With Injury at the side of Evans, I think that after the OT semi we will have a good understanding of how the Blues have developed under Mancini. At the moment it looks ver positive.