ESPN Soccernet Preview: Manchester City v Blackburn
The signs have been good since Roberto Mancini took over from Mark Hughes at Eastlands, as his side have not conceded a goal and have won both of their games since he took charge. City have certainly turned a corner after conceding nine goals in their last three games under Hughes and the Italian will hope to keep the run going against a Blackburn side who will be glad of some added rest following the cancellation of their Carling Cup game in midweek.
In contrast to City's recent success, Rovers have failed to win any of their last eight league matches since beating Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium in November and are facing the prospect of a relegation battle, as they sit just three points away from the drop zone.
City will certainly be favourites, but have a few squad issues - including the departures of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to the African Nations Cup - and numerous injury concerns. The absentees may give Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce cause for optimism, but City cruised to a 3-1 win at Eastlands last season, so he won't be too confident of pulling off a shock result.
Manchester City player in focus: Carlos Tevez. Eight goals in his last nine games make the Argentine striker one of the form players in the Premier League. He has been hitting the net with regularity in the absence of Emmanuel Adebayor and Robinho and, given a run in the side, has shown his quality. Still a great player to have in your team even if he doesn't score, thanks to his tenacious closing down of opposition defenders, Tevez has never been more vital to the City cause.
Blackburn player in focus: Steven Nzonzi. One of the bargains of the summer? The youngster was plucked from the French lower leagues for just £400,000 but has been Rovers' most consistent midfielder this campaign and will add bite and presence to the centre of the park. At 6' 3'' he brings an aerial threat and, having been hailed as the 'next Patrick Vieira', he could find himself up against his idol sooner than expected.
Key battle: Craig Bellamy v Pascal Chimbonda. Both are fiery characters and both have a point to prove to their respective managers. Bellamy will want to show Roberto Mancini that he is over Mark Hughes' dismissal and is worthy of his place on the left side ahead of the unpredictable Robinho, while Chimbonda is still trying to win over the Rovers faithful following his move from Tottenham in the summer. Bellamy faces another of his old sides, but he netted 13 goals in 22 starts for Rovers in 2005-06, so will be keen to impress. His pace and recent form suggests he may come out better from this battle.
Tactics: City like to attack and have some excellent wing-men who try to use their pace to create space behind the opposition. Carlos Tevez will most likely start up front on his own, but the defence will require a shift with Kolo Toure not around. Blackburn have not had a goalscorer since they sold Roque Santa Cruz to City, as midfielder David Dunn currently top of the charts with five, and should line up with a similar side to that which drew 2-2 with Sunderland.
Quotes: Patrick Vieira on the motivation behind his move to City: "What's important for me is to go to Manchester City, to show the coach that I am the same as I was during the period when he was at Inter. All this will help me get into the France team."
Sam Allardyce on his team's preparations after the postponement of the Carling Cup: "They have hopefully used those two days to their advantage in terms of resting, getting recovered and getting the batteries charged up even more for the hectic period that lies ahead."
In the news: Manchester City have announced record losses up until March 2009, with £92.6 million representing the biggest annual loss in English football history. City have also signed former Arsenal great Patrick Vieira and don't seem perturbed by the steady flow of cash seeping out of Eastlands, so await news of more fresh faces to follow. Emmanuel Adebayor has also been in the news as his Togo team bus came under fire in Angola, killing at least three of his compatriots.
Manchester City team news: Kolo Toure has travelled to Angola for the African Nations Cup, while Emmanuel Adebayor will be given time to recover from his ordeal even if he does return. With Nedum Onuoha and Joleon Lescott injured, Dedryk Boyata may continue at centre-back. Stephen Ireland is out along with Wayne Bridge, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is still struggling with an ankle knock.
Blackburn team news: Sam Allardyce's only injury doubts are Vince Grella (thigh) and Brett Emerton (groin). El Hadji Diouf is suspended after his red card against Aston Villa and youngster David Hoilett should continue to fill in on the right side of midfield.
Probable Manchester City line-up (4-3-3): Given, Zabaleta, Kompany, Boyata, Richards, Vieira, De Jong, Barry, Bellamy, Robinho, Tevez.
Probable Blackburn line-up (4-4-2): Robinson, Givet, Samba, Nelson, Pedersen, Andrews, Nzonzi, Hoilett, McCarthy, Roberts.
Soccernet prediction: With City's home form, and Rovers' away record, this tie can only go one way. Carlos Tevez should be a hot favourite to score and City shouldn't be too troubled - if it goes ahead of course.