City set to strike back in Premier League

Posted by David Mooney

Here's a question: What does England and Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart have in common with Darth Vader's superior officer Grand Moff Tarkin. The answer: They both let something "slip through their fingers" at a vital moment. In Hart's case, it was as James Morrison's shot came through a crowd of players.

In Tarkin's case, it was as he tightened his grip on the numerous star systems the Empire was trying to control, thus rallying them together in the form of the Rebel Alliance, who would go on to blow up the Death Star, while Tarkin himself was on board -- you don't need me to tell you that.

Either way, on the eve of the eve of City's new season, the error from the goalkeeper in midweek is just a tiny blot on what seems to be a rather neat copybook for the Blues' pre-season. No major injuries (Nastasic is back in training and will be back working with the first team next week) -- check. New systems and playing styles trialled -- check. New signings integrated with the squad -- check. Relaxed manager on the sidelines -- check.

City even managed to get the good people at the FA to give the club an easier start than Manchester United, despite all teams in the division having to play each other twice at some point anyway.

Sorry, I promised not to be too sarcastic this season.

Both the Blues and the Magpies could be something of an unknown quantity at kick-off on Monday evening. City have a new manager with a few new players, making them hard to read for Alan Pardew. Meanwhile Newcastle have appointed an old director of football as their new director of football, as Joe Kinnear returned to the club to cause unrest amongst the fans. But they have signed another French player.

However, all of the signs point towards a City win (of course, that means nothing where this club is involved). Monday night’s hosts haven’t lost on the opening day of the season since Mark Hughes took his Blues (then playing in a ghastly orange) to Aston Villa, where Gabby Agbonlahor defied logic by scoring a perfect hat-trick.

On top of all of that, Newcastle haven’t taken maximum points in this fixture since City were playing at Maine Road – when Alan Shearer scored a suspiciously offside goal in the 2000-01 season. Since the Blues moved to the Etihad in 2003, it’s played ten, won eight, and drawn two for the home side.

While City’s results throughout pre-season have been a bit hit and miss -- four defeats and three victories -- the fans have had some encouraging signs. Pellegrini’s given little away about how he will set up on Monday evening and, even in his pre-match press conference yesterday, he was like a man who had a full house giving off the impression he was playing two pair. When asked who would start up top, the Chilean simply replied that City have “four excellent strikers” who “will be important this season”.

So, no help for who to throw into your fantasy team there, then.

However, pre-season is as much about finding out what doesn’t work as what does. The high press (where, on losing possession, three or four players will chase it down in the opposition half instead of dropping behind the ball and setting up a more traditional defence), for example, that Pellegrini tried against Arsenal had disastrous results. Perhaps that may be a tactic he employs in games where he’s facing a team with defenders that aren’t great with the ball at their feet.

The end result of all this is that it makes writing a preview to a game between two unpredictable sides chuffing difficult. One of the few things we can say for sure is that Pellegrini doesn’t hold Hart’s error on Wednesday against him. From his Friday press conference: “He is a very important goalkeeper, I have a lot of trust in him.”

Though since this is a fairly stat-heavy preview, I’m going to leave you with a belter: City and Newcastle have never met as the opening fixture of the season in the two clubs’ histories.

What do you mean, "anorak"!

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