Away-day blues aready a matter of concern for Pellegrini

Manchester City need to register a win on the road – beginning with this evening’s trip to West Ham

Manchester City’s manager Manuel Pellegrini reacts during their Champions League soccer clash against Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

Manchester City’s manager Manuel Pellegrini reacts during their Champions League soccer clash against Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

 

Niall Quinn played for Arsenal for seven years and Manchester City for six. He once described the difference in terms of socks. Arsenal were immaculate when it came to socks, Quinn said, and would not let a player pull on any that were substandard, even in training. Man City, meanwhile, were a “hole-in-the-sock sort of club”.

Not any more. Courtesy of the guts of a billion from the Gulf, Man City have sorted out their sock drawer. They have moved from Maine Road and Peter Swales to Eastlands and Sheikh Mansour, from relegation and chaos to title winning and Champions League membership. You could call City a club reborn or a different club altogether. The latter might be more accurate.

But there are holes still. Even on Match of the Day a few weeks ago they mentioned the numerous empty blue seats at Eastlands for a league game, and MOTD does not often slip in bulletins of that nature.

City are not alone in that regard, however. The sheer scale of ticket prices may have reached tipping point – an indication of it has being that clubs such as Everton, Newcastle and West Brom have reduced away fans’ ticket prices as of this week.

Plugging that type of City hole is a club concern. Plugging others is Manuel Pellegrini’s.

That Manchester City could go top of the Premier League tonight offers evidence that after seven games all is not too bad for the sky-blue team and their new manager.

But like so many statistics, it is superficial, given that for City to be top tonight the four teams above them have to either lose or draw this afternoon while, in the early evening game, City must win at West Ham.

At the very least, the possibility shows City are in touch. That should provide some balance to October assessments of where City are under Pellegrini and the new hierarchy’s “holistic” approach to running a Premier League club.

Big hole
And some balance could be called for come seven o’clock tonight because, if City play to form, they will lose at Upton Park, or not win. There is a big hole in City’s holistic approach and it comes on the road.

There are three teams yet to win away in the league this season and Man City are one of them.

Sunderland and Crystal Palace are the other two and we know where they are. Under Pellegrini City have gone to Cardiff and lost 3-2, to Aston Villa and lost 3-2 and to Stoke and drawn 0-0. Now they go to West Ham who have just won 3-0 at Tottenham – and then tomorrow week they go to Chelsea.

In between there is a Champions League game at CSKA Moscow and, after Chelsea, a League Cup tie at Newcastle.

It’s an away quartet across three competitions and it could give City something to consider by the time they arrive back at Eastlands on November 2nd with Norwich the visitors. Will that sell out?

After Villa, City’s last away match, Pellegrini said: “I hope some day we will win away.” It looks more forlorn on the page than it was intended to sound.

But one thing is certain: City need to improve. On paper they have a squad capable of coping with a demanding quartet and more, but that applied before Cardiff and Villa. For a squad of such riches and depth, too much is hinging on the fitness of Vincent Kompany.

Conceding six goals over those Cardiff and Villa games is an obvious starting point for Pellegrini.

It had seemed he received some unexpected relief from the Manchester Senior Cup on Tuesday. Up against Rochdale, City’s under 21s featured Martin Demichelis for 45 minutes. It looked like Demichelis would finally make his debut today.

Yesterday Pellegrini played down the prospect. In confirming that Kompany will not be available at Upton Park, Pellegrini added that it is probably also too soon for Demichelis. “Next week,” said Pellegrini, who will want City to be as strong as possible when travelling to Moscow and Stamford Bridge.

The absence
But that makes them vulnerable today. The absence of Kompany and Demichelis means that a combination of Joleon Lescott and 20 year-old Matija Nastasic could face the sight of a restored Carlton Cole.

After signing a three-month deal with the club he left last season, West Ham should have a motivated striker.

As top scorers in the division, City should have enough elsewhere on the pitch to win, but Sam Allardyce will be stressing facts such as City having conceded more goals than Hull.

Allardyce will also raise the Joe Hart question. So far this season the debate about Hart’s form has been more intense than about City’s. But that can change.

Pellegrini has been linked with goalkeeper Willy Caballero – also of Malaga, also South American like Demichelis and Pellegrini. Even if this is two-plus-two speculation, the new manager cannot be convinced yet by Hart. All at Manchester City need Hart to perform well today at the beginning of this testing four games.

City lost four times away last season and their title challenge could not cope with it. Lose again, at West Ham, and it would be three defeats in eight games with a trip to Chelsea next. The bookmakers make City clear favourites to win the Premier League on May 11th – at home to West Ham – but you would not put money on it yet. They’ve fixed their socks, other holes have appeared.

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