Everton travel to Manchester City on Saturday to take on the champions who seem to be hitting their stride after a few early season hiccups. We talked to sonics097 from the City blog Bitter and Blue about a few things he has observed at Etihad.
RBM - Recent results point to City having finally overcome their League win hangover. Not too late in the day though, and not too much damage done either, with City in second place, one point behind, and unbeaten. Are City well-poised for a repeat triumph?
B&B - I would say City are in good position; it's going to be a matter of execution now. It hasn't been the prettiest 14 matches thus far, however. Questions still linger in the central midfield, though the defense seems to have overcome some early season woes now, particularly with the emergence of Matija Nastasić. Since David Silva's return from injury, the attack seems to be running a bit more smoothly now as well.
RBM - It seems every time City under perform, Roberto Mancini seems poised for an exit. Is this a manifestation of press paranoia, or is his head truly on the chopping block a la Roberto Di Matteo?
B&B - Probably more a concoction of media hype than anything else. The management at the Etihad would certainly prefer if Mancini could deliver more success in Europe, but I think stability is preferred at the moment, as opposed to Roman Abramovich's thinking at Chelsea. City have, thus far, improved a bit each year under Mancini, which definitely helps his case. If Mancini can get City to play better in the Champions League next year (a non-group of death would certainly help!), then he should most likely be in the clear.
RBM - Speaking of underperforming, what happened to the defence in the Champions League? In the Premier League the City defence leads with fewest goals conceded but in Europe it all seemed to fall apart. Are there any lessons learned there for City?
B&B - From my observations it seems that City's mental strength seems to wane in the Champions League. Players look a bit more nervous and the overall team chemistry seems to be a bit off. City can no longer rely on the excuse of not having Champions League experience; the players individually have played in CL and World Cup finals, and it has been generally the same faces in the team for a few years now. Starting with Mancini and the coaching staff, the mentality and approach for these matches needs to be tweaked, I suppose. The talent is there, but the execution is far off.
RBM - Nowadays City are invariably linked to every football player that expresses dissatisfaction with his current team. Will City be looking to add players in the January transfer window? Who have they been linked with so far?
B&B - Difficult to say if and where the team will be looking for players in January. So far the additions of Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia in the center of the pitch haven't panned out exactly as panned, and barring a panic buy or loan, at the moment it isn't clear where Mancini would like to strengthen. Of course, if media rumors of departures such as Mario Balotelli (I doubt it), Kolo Toure, or Edin Dzeko come to fruition, then replacements will probably be on the way. We'll definitely hear the names of Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani get louder as the window approaches.
RBM - With City out of the League Cup and the Champions League, will Mancini make an attempt at qualifying for the Europa League, or will he hedge his bets and focus on the Premier League and FA Cup come January?
B&B - I think the Premier League will ultimately become the focus, with anything else an added bonus after that. The aim is always to win as many trophies as possible but I believe that all strong teams or 'dynasties', if you will, begin with domestic success, and I think Mancini will ultimately make this the team's priority.
RBM - What's the injury and form situation like for City right now? Are they at full strength? Who is not in form and where are the weaknesses in the squad now?
B&B - Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell, Gael Clichy, are all injured for at least a week longer. James Milner suffered a hamstring injury in the match against Wigan and is ruled out with an unknown return, while Samir Nasri is questionable to play. Most of the healthy squad seems to be in good form, particularly just about all of the defense. The only player notably not in form is Javi Garcia, who has struggled to get going all season long since his arrival from Benfica. Balotelli just scored his first goal of the season, which will could be the beginning of a nice run for him, and Aguero has also been playing well over the past month.
RBM - Finally, a score prediction for Saturday's game. What are you expecting from the two sides at the Etihad? Who do you think will have standout performances?
B&B - I always get nervous when City play Everton, whether it's home or away. For now I'll say 2-0 to City, though I could certainly see a 1-1 draw. I would expect Carlos Tevez to both start and put in another fine performance. On the flip side, can anything stop Marouane Fellaini right now? The midfield battle should be one to watch.