Fan Focus: Manchester City (A) Pre-Match Views

Mario Balotelli: Just mental really. Can't say much more than that.

It gives me great pleasure this week to once again speak with blogger extraordinaire and Manchester City fan - Neil Sherwin. Neil is the not only the co-editor of the fantastic Back Page Football, but a regular contributor to In Bed With Maradona, The Football Sack as well TheScore.ie.

We actually featured on Back Page Football a while back, and now we're asking this of Neil, not to mention we'll  be back for further questioning after the game. I'm scared one day he's gonna call all these favours in.

Until that day though, enjoy his views on City, and the forthcoming game...

Now then, you’re a Manchester City fan – Do you ever have to occasionally pinch yourself at the transformation over the last decade?

Neil: Absolutely. I’ll never forget the tears in my eyes when we were 2-0 down to Gillingham in the 1999 Division 2 Playoff Final. That hurt a lot more than actually getting relegated in the first place but thankfully we managed to turn it around. I often wonder what might have happened had Dickov’s shot gone over or been saved, and I certainly don’t think the club would be where it is now.

The ultimate contrast to that was of course the Abu Dhabi takeover and signing of Robinho in 2008. For most of us it came out of nowhere and took a while to grasp. There has been a lot of vitriol aimed in our direction since but let’s be honest, what fan wouldn’t want their club to be in the position to achieve the ultimate ambitions?

A win over Spurs in a few weeks would solidify a top four position, but just how high do you think you can finish in the league this year?

Neil: We won’t finish higher than fourth at this stage, which is fine because, unlike a lot of the media, I never had title aspirations for City. We need to walk before we can run, and the progress over the past few seasons in terms of league position proves that we are on the right track.

The game against Spurs will be crucial, just like it was around the same time last year. They’re a good side and of course have the Best Player in the World EVER! In their ranks so it really will be an uphill battle. Seriously though, they have other things on their plate at the moment with the Champions League whereas as we’re out of Europe so hopefully that will stand us in good stead for the league run in.

Anything less than fourth will be a disaster, especially if the FA Cup run amounts to nothing, and if we fail to make the cut for the Champions League spots then the City of Manchester Stadium will be the place to watch during the summer.

As a football fan, I was quite excited by the signing of Edin Dzeko. Prior to his arrival I really thought he was the final piece of the puzzle at Eastlands. Are you, like me, a little disappointed with him to date?

Neil: I think disappointed would be a little unfair considering he has only been at the club since January. He has all the attributes needed to succeed in the league but I don’t think the team is playing to his strengths yet. The preference for inverted wingers and cutting inside completely nullifies a lot of his game, yet when crosses did go into the box at home to Wolves he looked quality.

Coming with a big price tag means expectations will be high, but really City’s spending and bottomless pit of cash means those prices are going to be inflated and not necessarily a true or fair reflection on the player.

He strike rate in a top European league speaks for itself and with better service he’ll flourish.

On the subject of City strikers, I’m going to keep this question fairly short. Mario Balotelli – Discuss.

Neil: It’s all a bit mad isn’t it? The guy is unbelievably talented and is an absolute monster for someone just 20 years of age. However there’s definitely something missing upstairs. In fairness to him he had it rough in Italy with all the racial abuse and that is bound to affect a young player. Mancini is obviously a huge fan though and is prepared to put in the time and effort to harness the obvious ability that exists.

However Balotelli has been lazy on the pitch a lot of the time which is inexcusable, and he needs to show more to justify his place in the team, especially with Dzeko now added to the ranks. We have options without Balotelli and Mancini needs to be firm with him in that regard.

Having said that, even on his worst day he’s a better option than Jo.

Lastly on your lot – Nedum Onuoha – Can we keep him please? He’s been fantastic for us this season, and it seems like Roberto Mancini has forgotten all about him?

Neil: No, hands off as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been a huge fan of Ned ever since he broke into the first team. He has all the attributes needed to be a top centre half, and all he needed was a consistent run of first team football. He’s City through and through and it was very strange to see him in another club’s colours but you’ve treated him well and he has shown his ability week in, week out.

Personally I rate him higher than both Kolo Toure and Jerome Boateng at this stage but I doubt Mancini agrees and unfortunately I think he’s finished as a Manchester City player. Great news for you though!

On to Sunday’s game. Give me the scoop from the City side of things. Any major injuries or suspensions?

Neil: Well we’ve lost Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng for at least a month each, both as a result of my pet hate – international week. Richards in particular is a huge loss as he is finally starting to live up to the potential and is a crucial member of the side. Fans’ favourite Pablo Zabaleta is at home in Argentina with his sick father so he is also out meaning we may see youngster Reece Wabara given a first shot at the big time.

At the other end of the pitch, Adam Johnson should feature again following his return from injury and that’s a massive boost as we’ve lacked that bit of trickery in the final third lately.

Whether Crazy Mario plays is anyone’s guess, and we will of course see the most defensive minded midfield in the league yet again.

Who from the Sunderland side do you think will give City the most problems on Sunday?

Neil: It should be Asamoah Gyan because our defence is suspect a lot of the time. However if Vincent Kompany can do a job on him then it will go a long way to killing your options going forward. After that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Titus Bramble step up and have an absolute blinder, marking Tevez out of it in the process. Bramble gets a lot of unfair criticism given he has actually been a very good defender for the majority of his career.

Have you seen much of Sunderland, and what do you make of us this season overall?

I’ve watched Sunderland a number of times and Bruce has done a great job this year. Players like Welbeck, Henderson and Gyan have been great, but Cattermole is a horrible liability even though he’s a very good player. You’re also blessed with two very good goalkeepers. Mignolet has been a real find in terms of the position’s long term future, while Gordon did a good job when he got his chance, and that save against Bolton was sensational.

Your games have also been quite entertaining, for example the whole Michael Turner thing against Liverpool. Obviously it wasn’t quite so amusing for your fans! The win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge of course stands out as the highlight. I don’t think the squad as a whole is ready to challenge for the European places just yet but a few additions in the summer could easily change that.

And finally mate, what’s your prediction for the game?

Neil: I always fear that ‘Typical City’ will make an appearance at some stage and we’ll make a mess of things, but I think we already did that earlier on in the season with Tevez’s miss and the late penalty for Bent.

I’ll go for 2-1 to City with a large amount of squeaky bum time late on.

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