Manchester City Preview (A) - January 5
CHAMPIONSHIP Watford head to the home of Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City this Saturday as they entertain the Citizens in the F.A Cup 3rd round.
The Hornets will be travelling to the Eithad Stadium in numbers with the club`s allocation of 6,000 shifted with ease as the Golden Boys` travelling army lick their lips at the prospect of an F.A Cup shock.
Roberto Mancini`s side have been far from their imperious best this term, but despite that, they have only suffered two top-flight defeats this campaign - one against rivals Manchester United and the other against the less-than-menacing Sunderland.
On the flip side, there is the City side which failed to make any headway in the UEFA Champions League group for the second season running, though apart from the black and yellow kit of Borussia Dortmund, that particular assignment bears little resemblance to Saturday`s clash.
Despite trailing great rivals United by seven points in the Premier League standings, City have concede just 19 goals in the league this term - joint best with fourth-placed Chelsea. Indeed, a mere nine of those goals have come at the Etihad - second-best to the Blues but nevertheless and impressive record.
City will have to overcome Gianfranco Zola`s side without several players for a variety of reasons. Joint-top scorer Sergio 'Kun` Aguero is out after pulling up short against Stoke City on New Years Day with a hamstring problem.
Defender Micah Richards is out until February with a knee injury whilst Jack Rodwell (hamstring), Maicon (knee) and Aleksandr Kolarov (thigh) are all doubts going into Saturday.
Ivorian trio Abdul Razak, Kolo Toure and most significantly, Yaya Toure are all unavailable despite reports to the contrary earlier in the week. City are trying to broker an agreement which would see them depart for the African Cup of Nations after the game, but are as yet unsuccessful.
Finally there is the case of striker Mario Balotelli, who was today (Thursday) pictured taking on manager Mancini at the club`s training ground in something of a scrap. One would have to imagine that such behaviour will see the controversial Italian left out of Mancini`s thinking on Saturday.
Despite all that, the Citizens do have an enviable squad and in particular, an array of attacking talent; Argentine international Carlos Tevez is happy in Manchester (for now) and has helped himself to eight league and cup goals in 26 appearances this season.
However, in spite of that the 28 year-old Buenos Aires-born forward has failed to complete 90 minutes since City`s Champions League defeat by Dortmund in December.
The former Manchester United, West Ham United and Boca Juniors striker is a scamp of a forward who works exceptionally hard for his team whilst still retaining exceptional quality in front of goal.
Bosnian forward Edin Dzeko looks likely to be Mancini`s alternative choice up front - the powerful number 10 tied with Aguero on 10 Premier League goals this term.
Used almost exclusively as a substitute by Mancini this, the former Wolfsburg and Zeljiznicar targetman has made just 31 top-flight starts since moving to the Etihad for £27m in January 2011. A further 32 substitute appearances have helped him to an impressive 25 league strikes for the Citizens.
Between the sticks even the normally reliable Joe Hart has looked fallible this term, and England`s number one has undoubtedly been culpable for several goals conceded this term, despite virtuoso displays of defiance such as that against Dortmund at the Etihad earlier in the campaign.
Formerly of Shrewsbury Town, Tranmere Rovers (loan), Blackpool (loan) and Birmingham City (loan), the 25 year-old Salopian has made the Citizen`s number one jersey his own, racking up over 150 professional starts for the club.
Despite his indifferent first-half of the campaign, the 6`5 gloveman remains an integral pillar of the future for both Mancini and Roy Hodgson.
Protecting Hart has been club captain Vincent Kompany and Serbian youngster, Matija Nastasic. Former Everton and Wolves centre-back Joleon Lescott has been well out of the picture for City this term, making just eight Premier League starts.
Kompany, like Hart, has been far from his best this term but remains one of the stand-out defenders in the Premier League. Head and shoulders above many of his peers, the Belgian international has an excellent football brain which complements his tough-tackling, marking and heading.
With just 22 Serie 'A` starts for Fiorentina behind him, Nastastic has seen an enormous amount of faith placed in him this term by Mancini, who clearly prefers the 19 year-old Serbian to the more-experienced Lescott.
Watford have far fewer injury concerns heading into this one that their hosts, with only Connor Smith (knee) and Fitz Hall (hamstring) set to miss out.
Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (hamstring) is a slight doubt but should be passed fit to feature after completing Saturday`s defeat by Charlton Athletic.
After being rested against the Addicks, Matej Vydra, Troy Deeney and Jonathan Hogg should return to the side.
Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Nastasic, Clichy; Barry, Garcia; Silva, Milner, Tevez; Dzeko.
Watford: Almunia (c); Hoban, Ekstrand, Neuton; Cassetti, Chalobah, Hogg, Abdi, Pudil; Vydra & Deeney.
Referee: Mr P Dowd.