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A golden opportunity

17 October 2010

Yesterday was a very, very good one for City’s title ambitions, with Chelsea dropping points at Villa Park and United’s draw disease spreading to Old Trafford. It would’ve been a perfect day if both North London Premier League clubs hadn’t won thanks to goals resulting directly from awful refereeing decisions, but at this point a top-four finish looks very likely anyway, so Arsenal and Spurs aren’t as much direct competitors right now.

But now City have to hold up their end of the deal. With a win at Bloomfield Road today, they can go three points clear of the draw specialists from just outside Manchester and pull within just two points of the leaders. We’re talking about a significant difference from even the past two weeks, where City were being mentioned in the title conversation more out of their sitting second in the table than their actual threat to Chelsea.

Winning on the road always is easier said than done, but in this case I feel like expecting three points at Blackpool is reasonable. The Seasiders have recorded some interesting results this season, including their most recent one: a historic 2-1 win at Anfield. However, a closer inspection of their record shows that they can cause problems for clubs outside the elite, but struggle against the top clubs in the league. Blackpool are 0-0-2 against Arsenal and Chelsea with a -10 goal difference, as their all-out attacking strategy tends to be punished harshly when they face a massive gap in talent.

As the suspended Ian Holloway has admitted, his side are facing a similar gulf in class when they host City. The Premier League newcomers have yet to win in front of their home supporters this season in two attempts, and those first three home points aren’t likely to come against City.

Micah Richards is back and fit, but Roberto Mancini still is without both his first- and second-choice left backs, and Mario Balotelli’s return is still some time away. I suspect we’ll see Jérôme Boateng at left back in this one, with Richards back in the side at right back and Pablo Zabaleta on the bench. Here’s my Starting XI and substitutes:

This assumes Yaya Touré is available. The Ivorian man-mountain is a doubt due to a knee problem he picked up on international duty. If he isn’t able to go, Mancini could either slide Adam Johnson or Shaun Wright-Phillips into his slot on the right side of midfield, or he could go to a more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation with James Milner, David Silva, and Johnson as attacking midfielders behind Carlos Tévez.

I suspect you’ll see City respect Blackpool’s attacking threat with a disciplined, counterattacking approach. The trio of defensive midfielders should prove exceedingly difficult for the hosts to break down to threaten the back four, and as Arsenal and Chelsea have shown, Blackpool can be punished repeatedly on the break when they’ve pushed forward looking for a goal.

I expect City to seize this opportunity and close on Chelsea at the top of the table. While a blowout win definitely is possible, I’m expecting something more along the lines of 2-0 or 3-0. However, after the poor results sandwiching the first international break, I’ll just be happy with a three points from this one to really make some noise in the title chase.

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