After the distraction of the Capital One Cup and the relative ambivalence that followed the home defeat to Aston Villa, attention returns to the Premier League with a visit to Fulham sure to be a stern test. The Blues have started this campaign sluggishly, not perhaps as dreadfully as has been made out recently, but certainly lacking the early-season brilliance of last year.
This trip to Craven Cootage to face a Cottagers side brimming with confidence after a promising start offers City the chance to recover from recent below-par performances and it is on a ground where the Blues have enjoyed success in past years. Unbeaten in their previous six meetings away to Fulham, City will hope to rediscover the form that so dazzled last year but has been frustratingly missing this time around.
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One of the possible reasons for our lethargy and conceding of goals has been Roberto Mancini’s fondness for rotation, not just with regards to players but also formation. There has been an absence of solidity in defence, no doubt in part due to the varying systems he has selected and that will be the manager’s principal cause of concern.
I’d imagine, therefore, that he will return to four at the back for this game, and with Micah Richards and Maicon both still absent, Pablo Zabaleta will occupy the right-back berth. Vincent Kompany will line up in the centre alongside either Joleon Lescott or Matija Nastasic, will Gael Clichy likely to play on the left.
Samir Nasri looks to have recovered from a hamstring injury so, if fit, will come into the side, whilst I’d expect Mancini to return to the strike partnership which looked so threatening at the back end of last season: Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tévez.
Here is the side Mancini could select:
Fulham are without the languid, yet dangerous, Dimitar Berbatov, after the Bulgarian sustained an injury in training, whilst Mahamadou Diarra, Kieron Richardson and Philippe Senderos are all doubtful. Having lost Moussa Dembélé and Clint Dempsey in the summer, Fulham have surprised many with their results and style of play, and their movement in attacking areas will no doubt cause problems for our backline.
Referee: Mark Halsey – He officiated the controversial Liverpool v Man Utd fixture last weekend but surprisingly, did not take charge of any City game last season. Will always be remembered fondly by Blues for being the referee who added five minutes of injury time against Gillingham in 1999.
Prediction: Fulham 1 – 2 MAN CITY – Despite our slow start to the campaign, we have more than enough quality to win at Craven Cottage. It may be open but should we take our chance, I’m confident of the victory. Goals to be scored by Carlos Tévez, Sergio Aguero and Damien Duff.