Crucial week ahead for City and Guardiola

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Bald fraud or a manager on the right track, and ‘watch out next season’? Pep Guardiola will be pegged as one of the two after Manchester City’s next two matches. City meet Arsenal at Wembley on Sunday in one of the FA Cup semi finals then there is the small matter of a local derby with Manchester United the following Thursday at the Etihad. Win both of those and City will obviously be in the FA Cup Final and will all but nail shut United’s chances of finishing much higher than the position they have occupied in a comical manner all season (namely sixth). So, Dicky lad, how are the Blues gonna do?

The last stretch of crucial back to back matches did not go too well. Monaco knocked City out of the Champions League, while matches against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea yielded a mere two from a possible nine points.Now, in City’s defence, Monaco are a top side and could well win the big pot this season, while City have struggled home and away against Liverpool since the the times Bob Paisley was the Liverpool boss. Likewise, City have won just once in the league at Arsenal since the days of Asa Hartford’s rare goal there in 1975 and Chelsea away has been a write off since the era of Peter Osgood. So, in hindsight, any City supporter of a certain vintage would have peered with dread at those three back to back when the bastard fixture computer concocted that run of games back in June.

 Arsenal at Wembley

“It’s a shitty place in London that we’ll never ever see” went the song until 2011.Not so much since as City have made Wembley a happy day out more often than not with FA Cup SF wins against Manchester United in 2011 and Chelsea in 2013. That 2011 win signaled the beginning of a power shift in Manchester and saw a great confrontation between Mario and Rio Ferdinand at the end of the match. We even have the home comforts of the Green Man pub and the lucky west stand.

It was frustrating to say the least that in a run of form that had Arsenal Fan TV topping the internets for sheer comedy value that City were unable to add to the misery of Claude and Troopz. Having taken the lead twice, City invited Arsenal onto them and dropped two more points unnecessarily in a match City controlled for the most part. Given the hex at the Emirates and Highbury, this came as no great surprise, but I fancy City to win at Wembley. The wide open flanks should give Sane and Sterling the opportunity to exploit the full backs and hit the byline. Sterling will likely be up against  Peter Crouch look-a-like Montreal Nachos or whatever his name is, while having dropped Hector Bellerin, it could be young Holding marking the on fire Leroy Sane on the other side. Much depends on how much bite we have in the spine tho. I cannot see beyond Pep picking Fernandinho in the holding role instead of Yaya, while I would also expect Captain Fantastic Vincent Kompany to retain his place after his commanding performance at Southampton on the weekend. Alongside the Skipper, I would also keep Nicolas Otamendi, who looked a different player with Vincent alongside him. Knowing Pep it will be Kolarov and Stones then.

One interesting question is whether Bravo, the Chilean hologram(shout out to the Noisypod), continues in goal. Willy Cabellero had been the cup goalie, but the roles have reversed over the past couple of months. When pressed on this after the Southampton match, Pep said he may let them alternate every couple of matches. Smart when the next two are the semi final and the derby.  Imagine the frustration with Bravo if (when) he costs the team a cup final or a home derby. Willy it is then.

I did not see Arsenal at Middlesbrough on Monday as, for some bizarre reason, we work Easter Monday here in the colonies, but with Boro so badly out of form, a close 2-1 win does not seem to indicate a reversal of form which has seen Arsenal fall as low as six in the league. Now how is that for a segue?


Rags at home

Is there a more nerve-wracking fixture in the season? Maybe the away derby, but the swamp has been a happy hunting ground the past few years. Much delayed due to United’s involvement in the EFLCarlingWorthingtonsLittlewoodsRumbelowsCapitalOneMilk Cup, the date of the fixture was finally decided once City graciously decided to stop defending in the Monaco tie so they could get this damned match out of the way. It does seem unfair that it is being played on a Thursday night though, a date and time that only suits the visitors after their “Thursday Night, Channel Five” history over the past two seasons.

Currently on an unbeaten League run stretching back to last fall (albeit with lots of draws), United and Mourinho will be a stern test for City. Anyone who saw them beat Chelsea must recognize that they nullified the threat by shutting Hazard down and pressing high and winning every second ball. It fair ruined my weekend. Expect Herrera to try and repeat his task on David Silva this time, but unlike Chelsea, I believe City carries more threats from other areas. Yes you can shut Spanish Dave down, but they will need to do likewise on threats such as Sane, Sterling and KDB and that may be a tough ask.

What worries me about this one is United sitting deep, parking the bus and lumping it long to Ibra. It will be critical that we defend set pieces diligently and we will need height for this one. If Vinny comes through the Arsenal match 100% I would expect him to partner wither Kolarov or Otamendi in the back. Mourinho knows how to set his teams up for the big games and I can see this one ending in a stalemate, tho I would not be at all surprised if Gabby Jesus were on the bench and came on to make a difference late on if City need him.

A win puts plenty of daylight between City and the chasers,a defeat hands the advantage for a top four finish to United while a draw holds the filthy hoards from Salford and Stretford just far enough back for comfort. One thing for sure is will be gut wrenchingly tense. I plan on multiple malty beverages in Manchester before heading to the lower South stand to cheer the Blues on and I will need them all.

C’mon City! A Cup Final date and derby win next week please and we can call Guardiola’s first season a solid foundation to build on for next year.

photo c/o anorak

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Richard Barter

Richard Barter is our Manchester City writer and a member of both the Toronto and Mississauga supporters' clubs. He has mental scars going back to the 70s from watching his team but, for some reason, they are healing.

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