A much-used cliché at this time of the season? Perhaps – but that’s precisely what these games are now; it’s exactly how we should be approaching each and every match. I’m sure Pellegrini will have a similar mindset.
20-days of destiny
Although all focus is and must be on Fulham, it’s hard for me, as a fan at least, NOT to look ahead to some obvious fixtures that will, I’m sure, play the biggest part of our 'run-in'. That’s not to say that after the dust has settled on Monday morning of the 14th April we should not see Sunderland (H), West Bromwich Albion (H), Crystal Palace (A), Everton (A), Aston Villa (H) and West Ham United (H) as opponents & fixtures to be taken lightly; but a trio of away games in just 20 days at Manyoo, Arsenal and Liverpool - interjected only by a home game against Southampton - are obviously the 3 trickiest / toughest of the remaining fixtures.
'Chatter' amongst Blues has already begun to focus on that period of matches and for my ‘two-penneth’, I’ve stated that 7 points from 9 of those 3 games would be great! In fact I’d even take 5; with a win and two draws in any combination.
I’ve said recently that it might appear to be looking on the slightly negative side – and Pellegrini would be having NONE of it of course (and quite rightly so) - but with Chelsea slipping up last weekend and with our 2 to 3 games-in-hand that we have over the chasing pack; we CAN afford to 'drop a few' and not be left too damaged by it.
But gaining just 5 points from those 3 'tuffies' would mean much MORE focus on the likes of
Southampton at home etc…and, of course, 'Everton away' is rarely a good
hunting ground for us.
So starting this afternoon – and despite Blues fans talk of ‘the 20 days’ - the team must plough all of their efforts into today’s game against the Premier League’s bottom side. Fulham won their first league game in 10 or more last weekend and if we DON’T pick up 3 points today then those 20 days will be one hell of a trial period!
It’s a tough one for me to call this one [predicting the Manager’s thinking]. The attack-minded engineer’s instinct & desire will be, of course, to go 4-4-2 with two strikers at home and there’s a good argument for it. However, I even bore myself by going on about how poor the Alvaro / Edin combo is and, I have to add, I’m not even sure the Spanish ‘Beast’ is fully fit or otherwise ready to come back in without his Argentinean striking partner.
So I THINK he’ll go similar to how he set up against
last weekend. Hull City
Hart, of course; Zabaleta of course.
No Kompany (suspended for one game) means that Demichelis is a certainty and although our manager MIGHT look at last weekends 'success story' of Martin & Javi in the heart of the defence (there’s no doubting they did a sterling job), I’m guessing that he’ll give Lescott 'the nod' today.
I was going to predict that he’ll stick with the same combination [as at Hull] of holding midfielders in Garcia and Fernandinho. However, similar to the mindset of 'Barcelona away' recently; Milner ‘in there’ gives us that counter-attacking thrust forward as WELL as some ‘nitty-gritty’ defensive work – he’s 'more fluid' and is certainly pacier that Garcia.
The 3 supporting midfielders goes without saying and Dzeko, I’m sure, will be ‘the one’ if he’s gonna go with just 'one up front'. Playing with 2 defensive midfielders also allows them to cover the defence a little more, which, in turn, will allow Alex & Pablo to 'support' on occasions too.
It also makes sense for Manuel to go 4-2-3-1 (4-5-1’ish) as Fulham will, I’m sure, ‘pack the middle’ as most teams do at the Etihad. With those 5 midfielders we should ‘boss’ the middle of the park and if we don’t have enough to crack their defence at the first attempt; then that’s one powerful-looking, attacking bench to fall back on.
Result? A week’s rest? Almost a full squad to choose from? Fully focused on the task in hand? Then it’ll be 3 points to City. Keep piling on he pressure Blues…