Birmingham – Manchester City, Premier League, February 2, 2011
Wow. Sunday was a mightily close call for City.
For a solid 21 minutes at Meadow Lane in the second half it looked like Manchester City were heading for their biggest disaster since the Arabs rolled into Eastlands. Notts County, a team 59 places below them in the league ladder, led through a bog-standard Nigel Bishop header from a corner, and City’s galaxy of over-paid stars looked like they could be heading out of the FA Cup.
Ten minutes from time City found out what Â£27m looks like in the real world. Edin Dzeko opened his Citizens account in just his second match in England and,Â althoughÂ it may not have been pretty, the Premier League fat cats were able to live to fight another day. When the richest men on earth moved into Manchester they surely wouldn’t have believed that, hundreds of millions of pounds on, their team would have been that close to losing to a team from English football’s third tier.
The result at Notts County followed the 1-nil defeat at Villa Park, leaving a groundswell of opinion to rise that Roberto Mancini’s men are again beached on the rocks. As a result, only weeks after looking like real title contenders City now head to St Andrews charged with proving their big clubÂ credibilityÂ once more.
City had dominated long spells of the match at Notts County, with the midfield trio of Patrick Vieira, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure controlling the tempo. Yet, without the likes of Carlos Tevez, Adam Johnson, Mario Balotelli and David Silva in the starting eleven, there was little creativity.
Mancini will need to address that issue at Birmingham sharpish, which will probably translate in major changes from the team that start at County. Provided Carlos Tevez recovers from a back problem he’ll beÂ straightÂ back in the attack alongside Dzeko, and David Silva and Nigel de Jong will likely return in midfield.
Defensively City could also ring the changes. Joleon Lescott and Pablo Zabaleta will be replaced by Vincent Kompany and Aleksandar Kolarov, leaving Micah Richards, Kolo Toure and Jerome Boateng to battle it out for the final spots at the back.
Compared to Man City who did January transfer shopping days before the window slammed shut, Birmingham were far more frantic in the final days as they tried to scrap another for deals and bargains.
Knee-deep in a relegation battle this season, it’s been vital that Alex McLeish freshened up and broadened his squad this winter as a difficult final few months of the season come around. Defensively the Blues have been rocky letting in 31 goals in the league, but undoubtedly Birmingham’s bigger problem has been in their goalscoringÂ departmentÂ where they’ve netted just 21 times in 22 matches.
The problem for Birmingham though is whether their new signings are actually good enough to help the situation. Pretty-boy David Bentley has arrived from Tottenham with a massive job of proving he’s still a player worth talking about. He made a positive impression against Coventry in the FA Cup by getting off the mark with a 30-yard howitzer. But then Bentley’s ability to pull off a moment of magic has never been under debate – rather the jury remain out on whether he can prove a team leader and perform consistently well week in, week out.
The loan signing of Obafemi Martins raises similar eyebrows. In a team in where Cameron Jerome is the leading striker in the team with aÂ paltryÂ three goals (while midfielder Craig Gardener has a team leading four goals to his name), finding a new goalscorer wasÂ imperative. Martins maybe remembered inÂ EnglandÂ for his acrobatics at St James’ Park, but the fact is theÂ NigerianÂ has never been much of a serial goal-getter. After disappointing spells with Wolfsburg and then Rubin Kazan, it feels a big ask for the 26-year-old to turn Birmingham’s season around.
For all that negativity though, Birmingham rarely lose on home soil. And their team isn’t that bad. It’s just is urgent need of a pick-me-up which they can then turn into some forward-moving momentum.
City’s knack of conceding with regularity at the moment could encourage McLeish to start beanpole Nikola Zigic with Jerome up-front, while Bowyer, Bentley, Ferguson and Gardner fill out the midfield. Ridgewell, Carr, Johnson and Dann should return as a familiar back four, while Ben Foster will start in goal.
With neither team arriving to the match in particularly wonderful form, a close tight contest could pan out. A screw-up or a goal from a set-play could be the difference between the sides, while a snorefest 0-0 is also not out of the question.
Looking to be slighty more upbeat than that though, we predict a home win. Just.
101predicts: Birmingham 1 – Manchester City 0