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      OPPOSITION VIEW - MANCHESTER CITY Q&A


Ahead of Saturday's game at the Etihad Stadium, we caught up once more with City fan Howard, from the website Standing Alone. He gives his views on City's title chase, the Champions League, Manuel Pellegrini,
and more. You can also follow Howard on twitter @howiehok34

Most people saw last weekend's defeat at Burnley as the game that handed the title to Chelsea. Would you agree with that or do you feel that City can still snatch it away from Jose Mourinho's men?

Yes I agree - except for the fact that many of us felt it had gone anyway, when you consider that Chelsea have a game in hand against Leicester City. Itís not that Chelsea wonít drop any more points, itís simply the fact that City have been underperforming for months now, and there is little sign of that being turned around. Sadly weíre now resigned to looking down the table and worrying about finishing in the top four. The title is becoming a secondary thought.

Wednesday night saw another early Champions League exit for City. Just what do the club need to do to push onto the next level and seriously challenge for the trophy itself?

Buy better players! A major part of the soul-searching and post-mortem from our floundering season has been the focus on our transfer dealings in the past couple of years. Plenty has been spent despite some financial fair play restrictions, but the team has not noticeably improved. In fact, the core of the side remains unchanged since the Mancini reign. This is a squad that can still compete for honours domestically, but cannot reach the heights of Europeís elite teams.

As for how to bridge that gap - well finding another Lionel Messi isnít easy, however much money you have. There is a big learning curve in Europe, and City may improve simply with experience, over the next few years. We need a manager who sets up to restrict the opposition, rather than trusting our players to be better than anyone we play, and we need the academy to start producing great talent, rather than sourcing players in their prime with no sell-on value. The academy will produce, I have little doubt in that, the younger age groups are already showing great signs, but it will be a few years before we really see the fruits of the youth set-up.

If City fail to win the title, can you see Manuel Pellegrini still being in charge at the Etihad next season?

Yes, I can. No one agrees with me it seems, the press keen to talk up numerous replacements in the summer, but I see little real evidence from our owners that he is doomed. Thatís not to say I definitely think he will be at City next season - he stands a good chance of going in the summer, but that depends on replacements, and unless a prime target becomes available, then whatís the point? Itís just a hunch, but thereís little secret in the fact that our owners want Pep Guardiola as the next manager. On the surface that might seem like a pipe dream - Manchester City donít take Bayern Munichís manager away from them. However, his contract is up with the German team next summer, he has moved on from very successful teams before, and he is close friends with our Spanish executives. If City feel there is a chance of getting him in the summer of 2016, then Pellegrini might survive another year, as might our Spanish executives for that matter.

Following on from that, do you personally feel he should keep his job and if not is there anyone you would like to see replace him?

Well that ties in to my previous answer. I have defended him for much of the season - the guy won us two trophies last season! However, patience has worn thin over recent months, to the point of me wavering a little. The rest of the season will decide - if we slip out of the top four, then obviously he is doomed, and canít complain. But essentially it depends on who he is replaced with - if you can get one of the best coaches in the world, then thereís little argument to say he should stay - but thereís little point sacking him for the likes of Rafa Benitez, who will probably frustrate in equal measure, at least domestically. Thereís one manager I want more than any other, though I doubt it will ever happen - Pep Guardiola. Simeone would be great too, but is riskier, and not very holistic. Still, it might be worth it to see him throw a glass at Jamie Jackson.

Whatís the clubís form been like in recent matches?

Wonderful. Total football, the likes of which weíve never seen before. West Brom should be very fearful, weíll probably hit double figures - by half-time. Ok, maybe not.

Itís been very frustrating, underwhelming, plodding, predictable and more.  Weíve won three out of our last 12 games, which tells you all you need to know. Put ten men behind the ball, and weíre in trouble.   

Highlight of the season so far?

There havenít been many, not that I would ever complain about being second in the Premier League and reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League. THE moment though (well it was a few minutes) was coming from behind to beat Bayern Munich. The atmosphere and the joy in the stands was something I havenít experienced since last season, and it felt great. It was also one of the few times Iíve warmed to European football.

Moment or game you would rather forget?

Thereís plenty Iíd be happy to forget. All our domestic cup performances can go for starters, but the true nadir was CSKA Moscow at home. That night was as miserable as a match can be. No away fans, those that has sneaked in were thrown out by hysterical City fans, the football was appalling, then we got two players sent off for good measure. A horrible, soul-sapping evening.

Player of the season?

There isnít one stand-out candidate, sadly. Aguero is the best player, but injury has hampered what was turning into a magnificent season in the months leading up to the New Year. David Silva always inspires in parts, and itís been good to see James Milner flourish before his seemingly inevitable departure. I guess Aguero shades it.

Anyone been particularly disappointing?

Sadly, plenty of players have regressed this season, including giants like Kompany, Toure and Zabaleta, whilst new signings have hardly hit the ground running. I am willing to give Mangala time, but for £40m it is ridiculous that six months down the line he is not even a regular. Fernando has been the pick of the disappointments. City have a troubled history getting defensive midfielders, and Fernando has seemed out of his depth much of the time, a surprise considering his pedigree.

What tactics and line-up can we expect to see from City on Saturday?

You tell me, Iíve got no idea! Part of Cityís problems have been not only the regular tinkering with the side, which changes game-by-game, but the insistence on a 4-4-2 formation that often fails. I expect the return of 4-4-2 for the West Brom game, and perhaps a start for Bony upfront. Kompanyís partner will probably change again to Mangala, Zabaleta and Clichy will probably return, Navas might start on the right, and Fernandinho and Toure will be in the centre of midfield.
Or alternatively, he may do something completely different - you just never know. 

Prediction and thoughts on Saturdayís game?

Well I canít say Iím confident, especially due to playing a Saturday 12:45pm game after a Wednesday night run-around with Barcelona, and also considering your recent clean sheets under Pulis, who has had success against us in the past. However, youíve got a few injury doubts including Berahino, so I will go for 2-1 City. It wouldnít be the biggest surprise to see us drop points though.

  

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