Manchester City v Blackburn, Premier League, January 11, 2010
Befitting a player who has won medals throughout his career, Patrick Vieira was unveiled at Eastlands and immediately declared Manchester City could win the Premier League title. Such a claim seemed a little fanciful, but with Arsenal and Manchester United dropping points on Saturday, City have a wonderful opportunity to close the gap on the top teams in the league.
Roberto Mancini said in his pre-match press conference for this clash with Blackburn that he believes â€œthere are five or six clubs that can win the Premier Leagueâ€ and with a home game against one of the least in-form sides in the league, with a new signing set to be unveiled; this could well be a one-sided encounter.
Patrick Vieira is a doubt for this match, but the French defensive midfielder will be desperate to overcome a calf injury picked up in his final match as an Inter Milan player. All eyes will be on the former Arsenal legend to see if he is â€œPast-it Patrickâ€ or the midfield enforcer of the mid-1990s.
A relatively tame midfield battle can be expected from the likes of Keith Andrews and Steven Nâ€™Zonzi and Mancini will be eager to continue his winning run since taking over from Mark Hughes. The dapper Italian has overseen three victories since he was appointed as manager of Manchester City, and in the three wins over Stoke, Wolves and Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, Shay Given kept three clean sheets.
A host of Manchester City defenders are unavailable for the clash with Blackburn, including Nedum Onuoha, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge because of injury along with Kolo Toure due to Africa Cup of Nations involvement. As a result Dedryk Boyata is expected to line up in defence after playing 90 minutes of the win at the Riverside. (Manchester City are 11/10 to keep a clean sheet.)
Although Emmanuel Adebayor is no longer taking part in CAN, the Togo striker is not expected to take part in Monday nightâ€™s match and Mancini will have a decision to make on who starts up front alongside the in-form Carlos Tevez (seven goals in his last six games) and Craig Bellamy who was one of the success stories of Mark Hughesâ€™ reign. It may well be a straight battle between Martin Petrov and Robinho although the decision is made easier by injuries to Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland. (Manchester City are 11/5 to win both halves.)
Sam Allardyceâ€™s side come into this game in woeful form and if there isnâ€™t improvement in the coming weeks, Blackburn could well become one of the favourites for the dreaded drop. They have now not won in the league since beating Bolton in mid-November and have struggled for goals throughout the campaign, averaging just one a game in 2009/2010.
Vince Grella misses out due to injury and El Hadji-Diouf is also unavailable after he was sent off in the FA Cup defeat at Aston Villa last week. This is a big month for Blackburn with the first leg of their Carling Cup semi-final, where they could meet Manchester City in the final, coming up on Thursday against Aston Villa again.
The returning Brett Emerton could offer some attacking threat down the right and David Dunn is undoubtedly Blackburnâ€™s danger man. Franco Di Santo has improved as the season goes on and Benni McCarthy should be looking to impress either for a move in January or to force his way back into the South Africa side for the World Cup on home soil.
Manchester City have already beaten Blackburn this season, 2-0 on the opening day of the campaign and another comfortable, comprehensive victory looks like the only way this match is heading.
101gg predicts: Manchester City 3 â€“ Blackburn 1 (13/1)
Full match odds here.