West Bromwich Albion visit the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday evening fresh from a victory over the only English team to have beaten Manchester City since April last year, a run of just one defeat in 37 domestic fixtures that has seen them reach the League Cup final and establish a twelve point lead at the top of the Premier League.
When you also consider that they won their first five group games in this season’s Champions League, including scoring four away goals at both Feyenoord and Napoli, and only lost their final dead rubber match at Shakhtar, it further demonstrates why Pep Guardiola’s team are the most feared opponents in England right now, if not across all of Europe. Winning at the home of a hugely impressive yet occasionally flaky Liverpool was a very difficult task for a club like West Bromwich Albion, but winning at City is an altogether different level of difficult.
Having said that, Liverpool had only lost once at Anfield since Wolves won there in the same round of the FA Cup last year, but then while City may have lost to the Reds at Anfield just over a fortnight ago, they are unbeaten at the Etihad since December 2016 when Chelsea won 3-1. Furthermore, the last time City failed to win a home game was the 0-0 draw with Wolves in the League Cup in October, a match they eventually won on penalties, and the only side to leave the Etihad with any points this season was Everton who drew 1-1 on 21st August.
It is certainly a daunting task that the Baggies face, but one that they should approach with confidence given their recent run of the three wins from four. They should also take encouragement from the fact that Championship Bristol City only lost the first leg of their League Cup semi-final to an injury time winner from Sergio Agüero earlier this month, that both Southampton and West Ham came close to getting a point in their Premier League matches late last year, and also that Crystal Palace became the only side to stop City from scoring in the Premier League this season on New Year’s Eve, in a match that they should have won with a late penalty ultimately missed by Luka Milivojević. Small signs they may be, but they are signs nonetheless that Manchester City are not invincible and why shouldn’t the Baggies end a second impressive unbeaten home record inside five days?
One reason might be the number of injuries that Alan Pardew has to contend with following the trip to Anfield. While I don’t buy Pardew’s assertion that the VAR delays caused the muscle injuries – the players should be professional enough to keep themselves warm during any stoppages – they did work extremely hard and, as a result, Kieran Gibbs, Hal Robson-Kanu, Jonny Evans and Jake Livermore are all doubts for Wednesday’s match. Sam Field and Gareth McAuley both missed Saturday’s game through illness, so will hopefully be available, but Chadli and Morrison remain sidelined.
Two days before the transfer window closes, Albion finally made their first signing of the year as Hegazi’s Egyptian team mate, Ali Gabr, join from Giza-based Zamalek in a loan deal until the end of the season with an option to buy.
Gabr’s transfer was reported by Zamalek last week, and I was wondering whether it was conditional on Jonny Evans leaving the club, but with Arsenal seemingly unwilling to meet Albion’s valuation of the Northern Irishman, it looks like he will be sticking around until the summer at least.
Later the same evening, Gabr was joined by a striker, Daniel Sturridge, who has signed on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season. Personally, I think he could be a great signing for the Baggies. He’s been unlucky with injuries in the past few seasons, but he is a proven goalscorer at the highest level and, with a run of games, which he has never had under Klopp even when fit, he could be just what Albion are looking for. He also has the target of getting himself back in contention for the England squad with the World Cup approaching, and could even be fighting for a place with his new team mate, Jay Rodriguez. With all the clubs fighting against relegation looking for a striker, no one has signed one of Sturridge’s pedigree, although that is no guarantee of success, and it looks as though Albion’s location was a factor in the Brummie-born striker choosing the Hawthorns over St James’s Park.
Manchester City’s absentee list was lengthened following their victory over Cardiff City with Leroy Sané’s ankle injury, joining Mendy, Foden and Jesus on the long-term injury list while Fabian Delph is a major doubt. Not that Guardiola is short of options, of course.
They have yet to confirm any incoming transfers as yet, but they are hoping to complete a deal for French defender, Aymeric Laporte, from Athletic Bilbao for around £57m, so he could theoretically make his debut against the Baggies.
Manchester City have won the last thirteen meetings between the sides since a 0-0 draw at the Hawthorns on Boxing Day 2011 which is certainly Albion’s worst current record. The last victory for the Baggies came in the League Cup at the Hawthorns in 2010 while they haven’t won away to City since their last ever visit to Maine Road in 2003 when goals from Neil Clement and Darren Moore earned the visitors a 2-1 win despite Jason Roberts being sent off with nine minutes remaining. Albion earned a point on their first two visits to what was then the City of Manchester Stadium, but have lost all eight games at Eastlands since then.
If you’re looking for positive omens, though, let’s go back to the last time Albion knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup half a century ago. Manchester City won the title that year, as it looks like they will do this year, but Alan Ashman’s side beat City 2-0 at Maine Road that season thanks to goals from Bomber Brown and Dick Krzywicki.
Despite my apparent bullishness, I can’t actually see this game finishing with anything other than a home win. I think the Baggies will give a good account of themselves, but City should have too much. Saturday’s match with Southampton is far more important, but that doesn’t mean Albion should surrender to City – a point is possible, and maybe as vital as it was at Old Trafford back in the Great Escape season.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
28 Oct 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Rodriguez, Phillips)
Manchester City 3 (Sané, Fernandinho, Sterling)
Last meeting at Manchester City
16 May 2017 – Premier League
Manchester City 3 (Jesus, De Bruyne, Touré)
West Brom 1 (Robson-Kanu)
22 Sep 2010 – League Cup 3rd Round
West Brom 2 (Zuiverloon, Cox)
Manchester City 1 (Jo)
Last win at Manchester City
1 Feb 2003 – Premier League
Manchester City 1 (Gilchrist (o.g.))
West Brom 2 (Clement, Moore)
Albion’s Record against Manchester City
|Premier League Record|