Monday night football is back as we head off to the Etihad to take on Pep Guardiola once again. This kicks off a run of tough games ahead as we face a trip to Split and after what their fans were like at Goodison, it will probably be like a warzone next Thursday. After that we face last season’s top 2 and Man Utd. Paul Joyce wrote in The Times this week that having made our ambitions clear through our business this summer, the next task for us is to start “changing perceptions”. He’s spot on and the run of fixtures ahead will be the perfect chance to do just that. Pick up results against 3 of last season’s top 4 and we’ll be acknowledged as genuine challengers to the sides above us, fail to pick up anything and it’ll be a case of best of the rest once again. Our away record was our undoing last season in my opinion as we won just 4 times, a return which was nowhere near good enough. If we’re to make a push for top 6 minimum, we have to sort that out. To be fair though we did take 4 points off Man City last season with Maarten Stekelenburg’s penalty heroics earning us a 1-1 draw away and of course that 4-0 win at Goodison. I’m told that Yaya Toure still has Vietnam flashbacks of Tom Davies to this day.
Monday night could see the debut of our record signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, a man I’ve been crying out for for ages as he is by far and away the best playmaker in the Premier League outside of the top 4 sides. There was a debate every 2 minutes on Sky on Wednesday about the fee, well £45m for a player who has more goals, assists and chances created than Phillipe Coutinho, (the subject of a £118m bid would you believe) in the last 3 seasons, is for me a great deal. His ability at dead ball situations also massively increases our threat from set pieces. His arrival also provides Ronald Koeman with some selection dilemmas going forward, who will make way for him, or will he change the system? One possible idea is a switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Sigurdsson playing in behind Wayne Rooney and Sandro up front. The problem however is the lack of pace as a result and we’d be left with a system that’s far too narrow. It’s a problem that’s great to have for the manager as it means he has a degree of flexibility and various options open to him throughout the season.
Incidentally while on the subject of fees and our summer business, in his press conference the other day Pep said that we’ve bought good players and that we are “one of the best teams in the league”. So, I wonder who we should believe, one of the best managers in the modern era or Henning, a red from Oslo who thinks we’re average and that we’ve bought shite? Simple choice really.
As for team news it’s likely that Sandro may return to the starting 11 after missing out on Thursday’s 2-0 win after suffering a knock. James McCarthy who practically lives in the treatment room these days is still unavailable, and Ross Barkley has a hamstring injury which will put any hope of a move for him on hold for now. Before moving on to discussing Man City it’s appropriate to wish Gareth Barry all the best at West Brom after 4 years at the club. He’s a top professional and the fact that he’s only 4 Premier League appearances away from breaking Ryan Giggs’ record of 632 speaks volumes about his longevity.
So, onto Manchester City then. For a man who pretty much has the GDP of an entire country to spend Pep Guardiola is under massive pressure to deliver this season. His first season in England was massively underwhelming as he managed to do worse than Manuel Pellegrini despite spending over £150m. Last season was also notable for the way he gradually began losing the will to live with every passing week. This summer he’s spent over £200m to bring in Benjamin Mendy (currently injured) and Bernardo Silva from Monaco, Kyle Walker, Benfica keeper Ederson and Real Madrid’s Danilo. Their main threats as we know will be the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, David Silva (who judging by his haircut seemingly has been inspired by his hero Leon Osman) and Sergio Aguero. In his Brazilian forward Pep now has his own personal Jesus (sorry for the awful pun but I just can’t get enough). Moving on… City will be missing midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and Mendy through knee and thigh injuries respectively. Oh and Fabian Delph, the man who has taken on the Jack Rodwell role in their squad of being a waste of space, may miss out too.
It should be a really good game on Monday and I’m hoping we can get a result against a side hotly tipped to be right up there come May. So far this season we’ve looked solid at the back with Jordan Pickford showing all the makings of a top class keeper with his great distribution, calmness under pressure and above all his solidity. His save from Shaqiri’s effort late on against Stoke was excellent. In a few years £30m will look like a bargain I’m sure of it. Michael Keane has been excellent too so far and it was great to see him head home on Thursday. If we’re to get anything from the next few games, the form of these two will be vital. Like I said at the beginning if we can get a win at one of the title favourites it will go some way to proving that we’re more than capable of challenging this season. We’re only a couple more players away from having the squad to do just that. COYB.
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