Preview: Fulham v Manchester City

Following their heroic achievements against Juventus, it’s to be hoped Fulham are a little partied out for the match on Sunday. Roy Hodgson has previously spoken about the importance of their midweek FA Cup replay against Tottenham, so this could be a good time to visit Craven Cottage.

City will still need to be at their best against a team that give little away at home, and who will still show the trademark Hodgson discipline. We saw that earlier in the season, when our full strength side still required extra-time to see off a weakened Fulham in the Carling Cup.  Surely Zoltan Gera can’t score as good a goal again?

Kolo Toure bagged the winner that day, but the club captain would be a surprise starter now. The physically imposing partnership of Lescott and Kompany looks better suited to the demands of the Premier League than any pairing featuring Kolo. Lescott and Kompany may lack a bit of pace, but that’s not such an issue against Fulham where we’re unlikely to be defending high up the pitch.

With Wayne Bridge absent, the question of who plays at left-back has made an unwelcome return. It’s tempting to go with Sylvinho for the more tactical battle against Fulham and Garrido for the physical demands of Everton. Zabaleta may be better than either of these defensively, but as we’re looking to win both games, a natural left-footer is better going forward. Garrido is the best crosser, while Sylvinho is least likely to waste possession.

The Brazilian’s lack of pace is less likely to be exposed on the small Craven Cottage pitch and Damien Duff isn’t the quickest these days. Having said all that, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mancini station Zabaleta at left-back for some portion of the game – he has a fondness for moving the Argentine around. Hopefully it will be to close out a victory.

Again it will be interesting to see if Vieira starts, and whether Mancini begins with two up front. Leaving Tevez isolated ahead of three defensive midfielders was catastrophic against Sunderland. The Italian will risk the wrath of the fans if he starts with Vieira or Zabaleta alongside de Jong and Barry.

Vieira currently looks better coming on from the bench, and it could be useful to save some of his energy for the Everton fixture. Adam Johnson did enough against Sunderland to warrant starting ahead of Wright-Phillips in what is becoming a keenly contested duel for the right wing – having genuine competition can only be good for the team here.  No doubt Bellamy will be on the left, unless Mancini decides to save his knees for Everton.

Will Santa Cruz get to start? His finishing was woeful against Sunderland, but his presence as a target man did change the game in our favour. The only alternative striker is Bellamy, and the Welshman wouldn’t give us any added aerial presence.

Roberto Mancini:

“It’s going to be difficult for us on Sunday, but maybe they will be tired.

“But I still think they will go with a strong team. They may change some players, but I am sure that they won’t change their approach, and they will be taking this game just as seriously.”

There’s a danger of it being a low key game, as we rarely start games at a high tempo, while Roy Hodgson is unlikely to send out his tired troops with all guns blazing. Hopefully Mancini will look to go at Fulham early. If we get a couple of goals ahead then they are unlikely to have the energy to come back and thoughts could start to drift to their FA Cup replay.

For City, a win is essential following the two dropped points last week. With our most difficult fixtures yet to come, it’s imperative we pick up victories in the meantime, if we’re going to claim fourth place.

Blue Days line-up: Given, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Sylvinho, de Jong, Barry, A Johnson, Bellamy, Tevez, Santa Cruz.

Prediction: 2-0 to City.

Verdict: Sunderland 1 Manchester City 1
Player ratings: Fulham v Manchester City

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