With most of its cast AWOL the soap opera that is the Premier League is supposed to go off-air during an international week. Or at least be metaphorically demoted to one of the rubbish channels like BBC3. At Manchester City however the tittle-tattle and revelations just kept on coming with a succession of screaming, sensationalistic headlines that thoroughly deserved to be accompanied by the Eastenders dum-dum drum ending. First there was the Garry Cook e-mail – that was so old it was originally delivered by stagecoach - which gave our last bastion of moral fortitude The Sun an excuse to bandy words such as ‘vile’ around in huge block ink and eventually led to his resignation. The errant missive was certainly insensitive but personally I’d reserve the extreme judgement of ‘vile’ for news corporations who hack into the phones of dead schoolgirls. Maybe that’s just me?
Then came the shocking news that City’s latest recruit from its London feeder club had broken his hand and was out for a startling eight months. No wait, eight weeks. Oh hang on, it’s a crocked finger and Nasri could possibly start against Wigan this Saturday. Damn you Twitter.
The latest cliff-hanger is Mario Balotelli being approached by Italian anti-Mafia investigators over alleged links to the Neapolitan Camorra clan. This seems to amount to our fantastically unhinged striker meeting up with some shady individuals in cheap Hawaiian shirts who showed him locations from one of his favourite films. Again nothing to see here folks but it helped the media get through a quiet week. We’re happy to help.
So finally we can return to the football. The proper football, not the boring increasingly inconsequential kind that only appeals to plasterers in Doncaster and Leytonstone called Darren.
The Latics have long-harboured an irrational hatred of all things City and never fail to play a couple of levels above their usual fare whenever we meet.
Before the international fixtures potentially disrupted their stride City were playing the kind of dominant, free-flowing stuff that suggested at a sustained title charge rather than a burst of early season form. Which is why the visit of Wigan – hardly a home banker but beatable nonetheless – is a pivotal junction in the proverbial marathon ahead. Can Dzeko and co effortlessly pick up where they left off, attacking at will with effervescent sprite? Or will they succumb to a bout of, what Joe Royle once memorably termed, Cityitis? Being the superstitious sort I fear the latter.
This is mainly due to it being Wigan of all clubs we face after a fortnight’s breather. The Latics have long-harboured an irrational hatred of all things City and never fail to play a couple of levels above their usual fare whenever we meet. It’s safe to assume that there will be no soft centre for the jet-lagged Aguero and Silva to exploit as the Wigan rearguard suddenly become an imperious blockade. Even the gaffe-prone Gary Caldwell will fail to upend anyone in the box. Meanwhile at the other end Victor Moses will go biblical on us and someone really rubbish like Conor Sammon will score.
Of course in the weeks to come normal service will be resumed and they’ll roll over like docile puppies and ship in four to the likes of Wolves and Blackburn.
Regardless, Wigan are a side it’s impossible not to admire for the way they resolutely stick to an attractive, passing style of football no matter the circumstances. Whether it’s a September awayday or an end of season relegation six-pointer Martinez sets them up open and any team that contains young exciting British talent like Moses and McCarthy deserves to remain in the top flight.
A fascinating aspect of this clash – besides it being City’s first 3pm kick off on a Saturday since the days of Billy Meredith – will be Roberto Mancini’s team selection. Since City attained their Champions League berth the Scarfed One has been busy assembling a ‘perfect’ squad of twenty-two, essentially two teams who are equipped to undertake the rigorous demands of twice-a-week competitive football. With next Wednesday heralding our European debut at home to Napoli the line-up against Wigan will prove to be an indicator of just how far Mancini is prepared to tinker in order to best challenge on every front.
Considering the breathless start we’ve made – and the fact that Wigan will rip-snort into every challenge with a derby-day intensity – perhaps wholesale changes is not the way to go at present.
Besides, isn’t Carlos Tevez currently an out-of-shape blimp shovelling in handfuls of Prozac? Dum-dum-dum-dum….
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