Carling Cup Preview: City v Fulham
The last two visits of Fulham have been rather painful and tonight provides a perfect opportunity to redress that a little. Last season we looked exhausted from our Uefa Cup campaign and suffered a tired 1-3 defeat. The previous season was even worse.
Our last home match of the season had Thaksin in attendance hoping for a bit of adulation in an end of season party. City duly swept to a two goal lead, and were playing ole football. Fulham were staring relegation in the face, when somehow they managed to peg us back with their neat and tidy football. With Geovanni getting a rare run-out, it was suddenly end to end stuff, culminating in a Fulham winner.
Cue an exodus of City fans and a lacklustre lap of honour. Anyone remember the ill-judged raffle of a car in the centre circle? My abiding memory was Thaksin standing on the edge of the pitch afterwards, seemingly texting. Sven came out for the lap of honour, cast a sheepish glance in Thaksin’s direction, and set off timidly in a different direction. I’ve often wondered what our Bond villain chairman was tapping into his phone. “Bring me the head of Sven Goran Eriksson” sprung to mind.
Fulham never looked back after that day, while Sven was never seen at Eastlands again.
In some ways Roy Hodgson is an English version of Sven, having made his name across the continent by winning titles in a variety of countries, and having a crack at international management. Both like to set their teams up with an emphasis on maintaining shape and disciplined defending first, followed by neat, progressive football when the opportunity presents itself.
The highpoint of this in Sven’s City could be seen in our victory in the Munich derby, when we nullified United and picked them off with a couple of goals. While Hughes’ City may be better equipped to take us where we want to go, there are times when tactically the ex-England manager is missed. It’s hard to imagine a Sven team on a good day conceding the goals we did at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Anyway, back to tonight’s Carling Cup third round tie. Mark Hughes surprised everyone by fielding a full strength side against Crystal Palace in the last round. Whilst a strong line-up is expected tonight, there is more likelihood of changes from the team that played on Sunday.
Martin Petrov could come in on the left flank. Bellamy may be rested given his fragile knees, or Tevez may be given more time to recover his fitness. Quite possibly they will play a portion of the game each. Pablo Zabaleta would be a popular starter at right-back in place of Richards.
Hughes may also want to give some match time to Sylvinho, Weiss and Taylor. It would be good to see Sylvinho make his debut, and a further glimpse of Weiss’ skills should help lift the crowd.
The club have pegged prices for the game, which implies tickets may not have been going like hot cakes. It will be a shame if there isn’t a decent crowd as Hughes has stated the club are taking this competition seriously inÃ‚Â our bid to win a trophy.
Mark Bowen and Joleon Lescott have both spoken about the need to get our defending back on track and I couldn’t agree more. While we did start the season with a series of clean sheets, it’s undeniable that fortune smiled on us in each of those games. Upcoming league games against West Ham and Villa will provide sterner tests, but this is an excellent opportunity to rebuild our confidence at the back.
“When you come back three times like we did in the derby and score in the 90th minute you should not lose no matter how much time is added on. We showed a lack of experience and concentration and must not let it happen again.
“Lessons have to be learned because good players and good times donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make the same mistake twice.
“The Carling Cup is very important to us and we are now 100 per cent focused on the tie … Winning a trophy of any description is a fantastic feeling and that is what we want to do.”
Roy Hodgson has said he’ll be fielding a similar side to the one that took on CSKA Sofia in the Europa League last week. Of the starting 11 in that match, only Pantsil started against against Wolves on Sunday. Hodgson knows where his priorities lie, and they aren’t the Carling Cup. We should win.
Possible line-up: Given, Sylvinho, Lescott, Toure, Zabaleta, de Jong, Barry, Ireland, Petrov, Bellamy, Wright-Phillips.
Prediction: 3-0 to City