THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Pellegrini's midfield and defence lack depth

icon premb3 February ~ Going into last Wednesday's fixtures, Manchester City and Chelsea were separated by just one point in the Premier League. With the former facing a sterner test at Spurs, the big question seemed to be which side would be looking to leapfrog the other with victory tonight. Events took an unexpected turn, City's 5-1 win and Chelsea 0-0 draw with West Ham putting a dent in the drama by handing City the luxury of knowing they will end the game ahead of José Mourinho's team whatever the outcome.

Arsenal's win yesterday does put some of the pressure back on, but even if Crystal Palace had replicated West Ham's achievement and frustrated their "betters", I would still say victory should be the sole aim for Manuel Pellegrini. And the reason is the matches to come.

Between tonight's head-to-head and late March trips to Old Trafford and the Emirates, City have six fixtures against teams currently placed no higher than tenth. Such a cushy run, coming over a period when Arsenal face four of the top seven, might suggest even less of a need for a City win tonight. But seemingly straightforward games bring their own problems, particularly when punctuated by vital matches in the other three competitions. Victory against Chelsea would bring a precious increase in the margin for error over those "easy" games, should focus be lost to Barcelona and Wembley.

I'm constantly being told that City have the squad to cope with chasing four trophies, and such is its commonly agreed strength that the lack of January signings largely went by without comment. But greedy as this may sound, I don't think I'm alone among City fans in bemoaning the failure to land Porto's Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando, a quality central defender and midfielder respectively. City do have a fantastic first-choice XI, and there's a manageable drop off in quality between frontline and reserve in goal, the full-back positions, wide areas and up front.

But the fact that we're just a couple of injuries away from having Javi García and Jack Rodwell trying to control the midfield, or relying on Martín Demichelis and the little-used and out-of-sorts Joleon Lescott to neutralise a world-class attack is a major cause for concern. That quartet cost £55 million, and so we only have ourselves to blame if they aren't up to scratch, but the fact remains that if any more of the spine were to join Sergio Agüero the injured list, City look a very different team. Taking as many points as you can while strong has to be the objective.

Beyond our best striker, City will be at full strength tonight though, and will be firm favourites given the location and a run of form that has seen just two points dropped since defeat to Sunderland in November. Mourinho is adamant that City have more advantages than that, but Pellegrini, perhaps wary of a war of words after previous spats in Spain, has chosen a dignified silence. I suspect the City manager won't mind the pre-match talk of luck and FFP, just as long as Mourinho is still talking about them at ten o'clock tonight. Ian Farrell

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