How was it for you?
Tense, nervous headache? Have you been constantly on edge these last three weeks? Been caught snapping at family members, colleague or friends for no good reason? Have you been suffering from poor sleep, an inability to concentrate or focus on anything? Have you found yourself drifting off during conversations, staring out into the middle distance before coming back to the ‘real` world with a “Huh? I`m sorry, I missed that could you repeat what you were saying”??.(but secretly not really caring as you pondered whether Sterling would pick up a knock playing for England?..)??
Well fear not, we have the cure??..real football is back.
After what seems like an interminable wait City fans can finally emerge from the equivalent of football purgatory and get back to the serious business of the Premier League and the Champions League. Woo hoo!!
Back in the late summer of 2016 the club threw open the gates of the CFA to the supporters for a celebration weekend of live music and family fun culminating in the unveiling of their new coach. The event was regarded as a success within and outside the club – the Sales & Marketing department even won a Stadium Business award for it.
They came up with the slogan “It Begins” for the Cityzens weekend and they unveiled the new kit, complete with the new badge and of course the new coach, one of the most revered in the whole world. Pep apparently was unhappy with the whole idea & he wasn`t alone. It felt awkward and stilted especially for a club used to going about it`s business quietly so as not to bother other people too much. Many City fans looking on, especially those with long memories of the hubris of Malcolm Allison, the over-promising of Peter Swales etc, would be forgiven for feeling that the marketing people were in danger of getting a bit ahead of themselves. After all, the guy had not even overseen his first competitive game in charge???
Well perhaps they did know something after all.
For all the discomfort that I personally felt at being moved outside my ‘Manchester City comfort zone` on that day, after a season which has seen the promise made by Guardiola on that day (“fasten your seat belts on the other side of the car”) been proved prescient & the slogan “It Begins” now actually feels a little bit more comfortable and appropriate. Now I get it??..
A pivotal run of games in Manchester City`s season and potentially a defining opportunity in the club`s history begins when Pep Guardiola and his squad return from the wilderness that is the International Break. After Everton on Saturday they face The History Boys twice and sandwiched in between those games there is the small matter of the derby at the Etihad.
11 days & four fixtures which could see City secure the Premier League Title and progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the second time. But let`s not get ahead of ourselves??
The players have returned from their international duties hopefully unscathed & preceding which they spent a week in the warmth of Abu Dhabi. Some light training with open sessions for residents showcasing the talent that has been nurtured gloriously this season & helping to fulfil obligations to the owners whose investment is delivering the sort of return they had hoped for when they bought the club nearly ten years ago. A time for the squad to recharge their individual and collective batteries before the final phase of the season starts and City resume their quest for the league title.
That challenge can take a substantial step forward on Saturday evening if City can secure the three points at Goodison Park. After the draw at the Etihad back in August there was more than a sense of grievance among City fans at the pathetic Calvert-Lewin`s theatrical acting skills convinced the referee that Kyle Walker had done more than simply back into him. It was early in the season but cheating was seen to be alive and well in the Premier League. Hope he found some space for the Equity card in his wallet.
Following on from that match City won 21 games on the bounce until the ‘dead rubber` against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League in December??.. and the stage was set for many football journos to begin wondering what they would choose from the menu to accompany their large slice of Humble Pie.
I hope that they have left enough room for the dessert they are about to enjoy in the coming weeks.
City`s recent record against Everton is nothing to write home about – P6 W2 D2 L2 GF6 GA9 – and of course you can bet that Pep is still stinging from the 4-0 thumping he was on the end of at Goodison last season. He will want to consign that memory to the dim and distant past on Saturday and there will be no better way to get his squad back on track after the three week break than by picking up where they left off. Of course Everton are under new management since that defeat last January and Allardyce has stabilised what seemed a disjointed team. After a run of four consecutive defeats at the turn of the year things have settled down but their form would best be described as inconsistent – last 8 fixtures delivering the sequence DWLWLLWW. They have won their last three home games so City will need to be at their best.
Everton sit in 9th place and out of the reckoning for the Europa League place so Sam will doubtless be happy with gaining as high a finish as he can and especially he will relish trying to get one over on the Fancy Foreign Bloke with his New Fangled Coaching Ideas. Not one known for his subtlety I fully expect he will be telling his players that he expects them to ‘get among them` and ‘let them know they are in a game` – you know, Neil Warnock-like – so we can probably expect some of the sort of tackles delivered by the likes of Puncheon, Kane, Alli & Bennett throughout the season. Let us hope that the officials do their job correctly??
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistants: Eddie Smart, Derek Eaton
Fourth official: Michael Oliver
Everton will be without Holgate, Davies, Gueye, Sigurdsson, McCarthy, Stekelenburg (who played a blinder agains us a few years back), Sigurdsson and the on loan Mangala (ineligible)
City await news on the fitness of Delph and Aguero. Mendy, whilst well on the road to a recovery, is unlikely to be risked.
Pep will have been waiting anxiously for the return of his players from their globe trotting hoping that they all step through the doors of the CFA fit and ready to face what could be one of the most significant periods of their careers. He will know that the challenges of the Champions League and the home derby match are to be put aside for now – there is a job to be done at Goodison and he will be focusing his squad on that game alone.
One game at a time. Let History take care of itself.
Come on City!!!