Premiership Etihad Stadium | Saturday 4th March ’23 | 12.30KO | Live on BT Sports
State of play. Man City – 2nd, 55 points from 25 games. NUFC – 5th, 41 points from 23 games.
Following an emotionally exhausting trip to Wembley, it’s back to Premiership footy this Saturday. Ah, good. Just what the Doctor ordered; a trip to the Etihad. From Manchester Red to Blue in less than a week.
Pep has had a slightly hit & miss campaign thus far. I mean, when I use this terminology it should be noted that they’ve still been brilliant compared to nearly everyone else, so a bit of context is required. They’re still mint, just a bit below the stellar heights of previous campaigns.
City started like ‘a house on fire,’ with the newly acquired Erling Haaland menacing Premiership defences so badly, it looked like he was going to bag 50 goals. The monstrous Viking (with a slight look of Scarlett Johansson?) has quietened down a bit, but still scares the bejesus out of me. Quite what it’s doing to a suddenly more fragile looking Fabian, I’ll leave you to speculate.
When they visited St James’ at the beginning of the season, I think we’d all agree that it’s one of the best matches many of us had ever attended. We went ‘toe to toe’ with the mighty Cityzens, and could possibly have even nicked the win. However, after a battle of derring-do and three goals apiece, it was difficult to argue a point each wasn’t fair.
It was the day I felt we’d arrived. St James’ was fucking bouncing. We looked fresh. We looked hungry, and I left feeling that ASM may have signalled the beginning of the end of Kyle Walker’s City career.
However, these are much trickier times, ladies and gentlemen. Admittedly, nowhere near the grief of just over a year ago, but problematic all the same.
Last weekend, I travelled to Wembley in hope, but little expectation. I think it’s fair to say that over the previous month or so, we have looked far from the almost invincible pre World Cup team mentioned above.
Why is this? What has changed so suddenly? I think there are two areas to look at.
The first, and most obvious, is our squad size. The combined effect of Ashley’s parsimony and the Big 6-imposed FFP manacles, means we currently have a ‘useful’ squad of circa 14 players. That is simply not enough to compete at the sharp end for a full season.
Therefore, having to start with the same XI week in, week out has left us looking very jaded and, more recently, a bit predictable. It’s a problem that will erode gradually with each passing transfer window, but that doesn’t help us much today.
Secondly, I believe (tin hat on) our manager has made a few poor calls recently. Having watched Liverpool pick Everton off the week before, I thought he played into their hands somewhat at SJP. I also have to question why we had a £60M forward on the bench at Wembley, whilst his pal from Bournemouth looks absolutely shot to pieces.
Don’t get me wrong, these are pretty minor gripes in the greater scheme of things. Eddie has plenty of goodwill banked, following a superb year.
We are occasionally allowed to have a counter point of view, though.
To be honest, I am viewing Saturday’s trip to Manchester as a free hit. In our current state it’s difficult to predict anything other than a straightforward home win.
I think Eddie needs to freshen it up as best he can though. IMO, Messrs Almiron, Schär and Wilson could do with a rest / weekend out of the firing line. I know Mr Howe prefers to slowly introduce his new signings, but surely it’s time for an Anthony Gordon start? Isak would also be in my line up.
Finally, Matty Targett was brilliant for us last season. He’s been available to play for 3 or 4 weeks now. Perhaps time to slot him back in and move BDB more central?
I don’t know. I’m just an opinionated punter, but all the above seems sensible to me.
We’ll more than likely lose by 2 or 3 this Saturday. I think the more important fixture is home to Wolves, the following week. That’s when we’ll need to get our fight for Europe back on track.
To those of you travelling (and I know a good few): well done, and safe travels.