Man City aiming to shake off cobwebs
What a week it's been for goals, with two incredible Capital One Cup matches - Reading 5-7 Arsenal and Chelsea 5-4 Manchester United - providing us with 21 strikes to savour. It's great to see teams throwing caution to the wind and playing some breathless attacking football.
In England, Chelsea epitomise it at the moment when they play all three of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in midfield - teams are going for it. The Chelsea v United rematch was one of the best football games I've seen in a long, long time, played by two teams who are there to please the fans.
I'm really happy to see football moving in this direction - my Newcastle side played with real attacking freedom years ago and plenty of people said you couldn't play like that and win things. It's finally getting through that you can win football matches without having to be totally physical and reliant on set-pieces and a solid defence. People have always claimed you need two big, strong centre-backs, but Barcelona play without any central defenders and their theory is 'you score four and we'll score five' - which is exactly what they did when they beat Deportivo La Coruna 5-4 away from home recently. Everyone is trying to copy Barca and, though a lot of them are poor men's Barcelonas, they are at least looking towards a more entertaining approach. It's what supporters want and it's the way football should be played, with attacking verve and excitement. Long may it continue.
Manchester City played that way at times last season and won the title with a host of great forward players like Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Sergio Aguero. The memorable 6-1 victory at Old Trafford was probably the best example of that approach paying dividends, and it's perhaps a little bit disheartening for City fans to look back to this same stage last year.
Twelve months ago, City's ninth game of the season brought a 6-1 spanking of Manchester United, which left the club top of the Premier League by five points having already scored 33 goals. Their ninth league game this time around was last week's narrow 1-0 victory over Swansea, which has left them in third place in the table having scored just 18 goals.
However, City need not dwell on their performance at Etihad Stadium last week. They had just been thumped by a young Ajax side in the Champions League and were low on confidence. They just needed a result and they got it thanks to Carlos Tevez's goal against a resilient Swansea team, who went on to prove they are no pushovers by dumping Liverpool out of the League Cup. No-one expected City to play quite like they did at the start of last season again because of the pressure on their shoulders as champions, but this is definitely a side that are scraping results at the moment. As we've seen before, though, that's as good a sign of title credentials as any and they are still only a point behind league leaders Chelsea.
For me, David Silva's loss of form has been a key reason for City's lacklustre start. He is a player I love to watch and was instrumental last season - when he's firing on all cylinders, so are City. Just like Juan Mata for Chelsea at the moment. Silva's now had a little time off because of injury and hopefully for Roberto Mancini he will return refreshed. He is the one who makes those tight games appear easier to win because he can open up areas and give that vital pass through the eye of the needle that breaks the hearts of defenders. City haven't got anyone else who fulfils that role - Gareth Barry, James Milner and Yaya Toure don't do that, it's not what they're about.
It looks like City will be without Silva again for the trip to Upton Park on Saturday and they face a West Ham team who have surprised a few opponents already with their combination of physical play and tidy football. The Andy Carroll-Kevin Nolan combination is a handful for any team, while Matt Jarvis has plenty of promise, though we're still waiting for him to really come alive as he hasn't proven himself an integral player just yet.
Nolan is a player I really admire because he squeezes every ounce out of his ability when he's on that football pitch. What you see is what you get. He's not the quickest or trickiest of players, but boy does he know when the time is right to get into the box. He's just got that knack, that anticipation - Tim Cahill had it at Everton and, going back a bit further, Terry McDermott at Liverpool and Newcastle too. It's a real gift and these players are really hard to mark. They're often not overly involved in the game but then suddenly there they are and the opposition defenders are left scratching their heads after conceding a goal. At Bolton, Newcastle and now at West Ham, Kevin has always been an influential player, performing at a high level and making people stand up and recognise his threat.
His relationship with Andy Carroll is a real asset, too. As a manager I was never that bothered about players being best friends off the pitch - I like it when they are best friends on the pitch. That's where you want to see the camaraderie bear fruit. There is still plenty to be said for close friendships, though, especially when you've got someone like Andy who is young and has had some previous problems. Sam Allardyce knows that Kevin Nolan will help steer him, keep him on the right track and look out for him. That's what makes it work and Andy knows that too. I'm sure Kevin's presence is a big reason for him being at West Ham right now. It's good for Andy to know he's got someone watching his back and trying to give him the benefit of his experience.
Carroll's actually got a very good scoring record against City having previously helped himself to four goals and if Mancini's team are below par, a little bit off colour, then Sam Allardyce's Hammers will be primed to take advantage. They've got an opportunity here and I'm sure West Ham fans will feel that way too. However, if City find their stride... well, they can beat anyone. If they can win 6-1 at Manchester United they can certainly do so at West Ham.
There's a huge game on the horizon for City against Ajax in the Champions League but, for now, it will be all eyes and full focus on Upton Park; if Mancini and his players don't have absolute concentration when they walk out there on Saturday, it could be a tricky evening for the boys in blue.