Johnny On The Spot - December Preview
Premier League leaders Manchester City embark this weekend upon arguably the toughest month of the season to date. A daunting intensive run of 9 fixtures in 29 days lie ahead of us and there will be precious little home comfort with six of the games on the road. The Blues boisterous travelling army will be going through the mileage mixer and their support will prove crucial for City in order to maintain a stranglehold on the season`s proceedings.
West Ham United, Etihad Stadium, Sunday 3rd December 16h00 GMT, PL
It is easy to forget that there are still some talented footballers at West Ham, despite a harrowing first third of the season based at an eerie London Stadium that has only produced 4 wins to date, 2 of which came over Cheltenham and Bolton in the League Cup. Slaven Bilic has since been jettisoned by the Irons creepy owners and in his place now sits The Moyesiah, charged with steering the club away from relegation. For he has risen! Again. City have had issues with David Moyes ever since his grizzled pontificating over Joleon Lescott`s acrimonious departure from Everton to Manchester to win titles. With alarming regularity under MoyesOut, Everton out of nowhere would put in a cup final performance against City. The Toffees became our quintessential bogey side. But since his anointment by Lord Taggart, the wheels have come off spectacularly for Moyes during doom laden spells with the rags, Sociedad and Sunderland during which he copped for some overdue pastings from City. Despite his assertions this week that "City cannot be called a great side yet" Moyes is coaching in the last chance saloon at West Ham and there were signs in a 1-1 fightback against Leicester that the club`s famously passionate supporters knew it and were up for doing what they could to drag their players into form. All that rapidly changed with a shambolic surrender on Merseyslide in midweek to Wayne Rugney and his beleaguered team-mates. Consequently, God knows how Moyes will set the Hammers up in Manchester. They are that poor, the only way I can see City getting beaten against West Ham is by themselves. However, the smart money has to be on them defending heavily and countering. The Blues must also avoid being drawn into a dogfight with key players Kompany, Fernandinho and Sane all one booking away from missing the trip to Stretford. Patience, City.
City 4 West Ham 0
Shakhtar Donetsk, Metalist Stadium, Wednesday 6th December 19h45 GMT, CL Group F
There`s more than an element of intrigue about City`s final Champions League group stage fixture of 2017. The Blues arrive back at Ringway from Kharkiv in the early hours of Thursday morning. Three days later the squad will exit the city walls again, only this time to take on the Stretfords. The already qualified Blues have been imperious thus far in the competition and there is no doubt that Pep Guardiola would relish topping Group F with maximum points. However, the rags remain City`s closest domestic challengers at the start of December and there is no doubt where the priority lies. We can certainly expect to see a radically changed City side take the field at the Metalist and we may yet see certain of our stars told to stay home and watch the game on TV. Meanwhile, Paulo Fonseca`s men have endured a patchy November and their mission for this game is clear. Avoid defeat and it won`t matter at all what Napoli achieve in Rotterdam. Fonseca must decided whether to stick or twist. A draw would suit both sides and I think that`s what we will get.
Shakhtar 1 City 1
Stretford Galacticos, The Swamp, Sunday 10th December 16h30 GMT, PL
And so to the big one. Our second trip to Stretford this year could yet prove to be a season defining moment if Jose Mourinho`s giant hoofers are still inside 10 points of the league leaders when City`s coach pulls up outside. The FA and UEFA`s cup draws, fixture releases and incident video analysis could not have been kinder since Peter Scudamore (with David Gill hiding behind the curtains) announced that "a failing Manchester United is bad for the Premier League" following Sir Alex Ferguson`s retirement. Still, David, Louis & Jose`s Inexplicables have continued to struggle to impose themselves over their erstwhile "noisy neighbours" in the modern era whilst generally grinding out many wins elsewhere fortuitously. For all the entitled pontificating that still oozes out of the home counties street parties backed by fawning hacks and pundits that greet a win over anyone, the derby facts are damning for a club that once used to break British transfer records unopposed repeatedly: Across the past 7 Premier League seasons United have only beaten City 4 times in 14 attempts and been tuned by City on 7 occasions. There is also a terrific dose of hypocrisy where the fabled ad nauseam "Theatre of Dreams" TM is concerned. The "there's no value out there" OT mantra of the early years of His Highness Sheikh Mansour`s 9.5 years at Manchester City have now been replaced by gigantic "catch up" transfer and wage splurges and ultimately, the recruitment of a ghastly coach whom the M1 faithful once loathed. And it`s his defence first-long ball stewardship of the cause in the face of City`s beautiful football in this campaign which has seen diminishing talk of "the united way" completely evaporate. Maureen rolls the bus out repeatedly when the stakes are high and I do not expect this game to be an exception, albeit with added spice. I have a feeling this game could get nasty which would be playing into rag hands who desperately need to win. United`s manager is increasingly drifting towards "Pep Talk" in his pressers and the BBC have now provided a platform for the suspended Carlton Pogba to declare he wishes injuries upon important City players. Unsavoury. I see this as a precursor to some rough stuff. Of course, the refereeing appointment will be crucial but for the life of me I cannot see this game passing without incident. What City have got to do is keep their heads because they are going to come in for the treatment. If we have not addressed our recent weakness at defending corners by this game we`ll be walking a fine line. It could be a scoring draw if we can`t get our mojo going. The rags tails will be up after Arsenal defeated themselves in front of them, but all being well I think that we should edge it again.
The rags 1 City 2
Swansea City, Liberty Stadium, Wednesday 13th December 19h45 GMT, PL
There is every possibility that a tired Swansea will be managerless going into this fixture depending upon how consecutive clashes with relegation rivals Stoke and West Brom go. They already went down at Stoke. Paul Clements men are mired in a dreadful run of results having won 1 of their last 11 fixtures at the time of going to press. 8 of those games ended in defeat, albeit narrowly. It could be this fact alone that has stopped Swansea`s board from pressing the panic button that West Brom, Palace and West Ham opted for already this season. Post derby, City will be mindful of Tottenham`s visit to Manchester 3 days later but as long as the Blues haven`t shipped more injuries by mid December, we should have more than enough in our locker to secure a carefully crafted away win.
Swansea 0 City 2
Tottenham Hotspur, Etihad Stadium, Saturday 16th December 17h30 GMT, PL
There`s something about Mauricio Pochettino that increasingly grates on me. With every irrational strop, he`s gradually transforming his public persona from studied tactician into sulky mard-arse and his uber-talented side`s alarming domestic nosedive has blotted a formerly impeccable copybook, not least in Europe where Spurs have been sensational. For me, it`s been the surprise of the season to see them languishing 16 points off the Premier League summit with a third of the season completed at the end of November. I perceive a lack of discipline. Their ragged draw at Watford did nothing to suggest they are about to start imminently pulling up any trees but the fixture list is sending them both struggling Stoke and Brighton at home by way of rehabilitation before they come to town to take on City. With or without Harry Kane they are going to get beaten.
City 3 Spurs 1
Leicester City, King Power Stadium, Tuesday 19th December 19h45 GMT, LCQF
Leicester under the cautious Claude Puel are gradually getting their game together as recent wins over top six contenders Spurs and Burnley will testify. Outside of their exhausted defeat at home to City last month, the general trajectory has been upwards and away from trouble into the top half of the Premier League table. After a rough couple of years the Foxes will be eager to progress in the Carabao Cup and this Quarter Final will be seen as a great opportunity, particularly as Pep will be continuing his squad rotation and the side Leicester will face will certainly not consist of our strongest effective. Many of us were hacked off at El Boss`s decision last season to give a full strength rags side in this competition a more than sporting chance of a free pass at the Swamp to more agreeable draws and ultimately a trophy. I`m foreseeing this going to penalties and another City win.
Leicester 2 City 2 AET City win on Penalties
Bournemouth, Etihad Stadium, Saturday 23rd December 15h00 GMT, PL
An erratic season thus far for Bournemouth and the media proclamations that Eddie Howe is the next big thing have subsided. Their away form has improved of late but this is nailed on to be another one of those attritional days at the office for City and our supporters whereby our defenders see way to much of the ball….unopposed on the half-way line. If we can break through early enough, we will paste them. An early Christmas present for the Etihad faithful.
City 4 Bournemouth 0
Newcastle United, St James` Park, Wednesday 27th December 19h45 GMT, PL
This always was one of the great City away days and often provided a formidable test. But not anymore. The Magpies have not beaten us up there for 12 years and their current freefall suggests that won`t be about to be corrected any time soon. The mixed bag of opposition they face throughout December will make for interesting results. I think they`ll be flirting with relegation all season long. There is also too much of an unsettled boardroom backdrop overshadowing everything. City to win at a canter.
Newcastle 0 City 3
Crystal Palace, Selhurst Park, Sunday 31st December 12h00 GMT, PL
Well, this is ridiculous isn`t it? Another mid-day kick off down south for City fans to contend with, and on a New Year`s Eve Sunday to boot. Roy Hodgson has managed to steady the ship somewhat after their reverse at Spurs last month. Two goalless draws at Brighton and West Brom emphasise how the Eagles must scrap for every point in the winter months if they are to avoid an end of season relegation dogfight. There`ll be no joy against City though. Another professional away win will fittingly wrap up 2017 across Planet Blue.
Palace 0 City 2
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