Every season throws up a fixture grouping that leaps out and appears more difficult and pivotal than the others. After a two week international break Manchester City now face one such clump of stinging nettles that must be waded through with great care. Villa at home this Saturday, a must-win Champion’s League clash with Villarreal on Tuesday, followed by the mother, father and bastard off-spring of all Manchester derbies next weekend.
On any other occasion the Midlands outfit would represent a formidable challenge – McLeish has solidified them to such a degree there is little hope of administering an all-too-easy 4-0 spanking like we did last year – but to progress through an energy-sapping, treacherous week a certain degree of prioritising must take place. Which makes Villa the supposed weak link. The Villa-rehearsal before Villarreal if you like.
Though it is presumptuous – even delusional - in the extreme to consider Aston Villa as being anything but a difficult proposition City must do so and field a weakened side. In truth the blues are not yet at such a stage where we can display such arrogant disregard for a side that contains such predacious threats in Bent and Agbonlahor. But we must believe that we are. Ferguson and Mourinho have perfectly illustrated in recent times that a supercilious attitude towards team selection for certain games pays rich dividends come May.
Mancini has already got the ball rolling by stating this week that the players returning from international duties are tired. Expect Dzeko to be rested with Super Mario once again prowling from the front with his usual laid-back menace whilst Adam Johnson is also a probable to start his second game running.
Bobby Manc’s options in attack are limited with Aguero not yet fully fit (though training) and due to the unforgivable actions of a certain scabby-necked Argentine with hearing problems Dzeko will presumably be employed at some point from the bench. At least he’ll understand ‘Get stripped son, you’re up’.
Shay Given will no doubt play a blinder in between staring down the other end and daring his young usurper not to drop a clanger.
At the back our imperious leader Vincent Kompany will make his 100th start for the club but it’s the return of several old-faces that interests the most. Shay Given will no doubt play a blinder in between staring down the other end and daring his young usurper not to drop a clanger. The Dunny-monster will be welcomed back to warm genuine applause – City’s player of the year for four consecutive seasons and a mainstay through the bleak times makes him a club legend. Not to mention his penchant for scoring own goals of such comedic genius that you found yourself suppressing a chuckle even as the ball settled into your own team’s net. Every player returning to their former employer has a point to prove but perhaps no-one more so than Stevie Ireland. Once faster than a speeding bullet and tougher than a moving train ‘Superman’ ate a big chunk of kryptonite in the summer of 2009 and fell swiftly from grace. The superhero swapped the ability to fly to one of invisibility. Now finally Ireland seems to be getting things back together and he’ll be snapping into Nasri and co with extra relish.
On Tuesday City look hopefully to the future. Three days prior we face the first wives club.
My personal fear is that Richards is unable to curtail his forward rampages down the right and allow Agbonlahor plenty of room to create havoc on the break. Even when he’s touch-tight Micah should be willing to concede ground to the Villa flyer as long as he’s pushed outside. When permitted to roam inland the under-rated England international can hurt us. I also fear an Ireland thirty-yard thunderbolt, because that’s just the kind of shitty trick life sometimes likes to play.
This may be – on paper at least - the easiest of our trio of forthcoming challenges but this is City we’re talking about – which makes it our hardest. With the mouth-watering incentive of going top should the Trafford boys stumble at Anfield, meaning we then head into a Manchester derby in October as temporary top dogs, I’m just praying City seize the day and not the nettle.
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