Manchester City has once again proven that they are the team to beat in England. With a comfortable 3-1 win over Newcastle Saturday they have also became the only unbeaten team in the Barclay’s Premier League. As if that weren’t impressive enough, after twelve games they have still only dropped points once in their campaign. Aside from the two dropped points at Craven Cottage there is no doubt that City is currently the best team in England, but there are still many doubts about what they can do on the continental stage.
The next two months will be the most demanding portion of City’s schedule with games coming in rapid succession against quality opponents. Beginning today, City travel to Naples to determine what their future in the UEFA Champion’s League will be. City take on a Napoli squad that has not won a game since October 26. However, this is a team that can still be lethal and have already proven that they can perform very well on Europe’s biggest stage. A draw is simply not good enough for City. If City drop points then they face a must-win situation in Munich on December 7. City will need to attack with purpose in Naples and convert the chances that they create so often. A repeat of the 1-1 scoreline at the Etihad favors Napoli who can easily take three points from a battered Villarreal squad on their last day of group play.
City will also need to carefully watch the blitzkrieg attack threat of Cavani, Lavezzi, and Hamsik. Three quality attackers who are lethal on the counter-attack, and they could be the deciding factor in this game. The biggest players for City will need to be their defensive midfielders and center backs. Kolarov and Richards should get the nod from Mancini and I would fully expect their mentality to be set to attack. With wingbacks fully committed to the attack it will be crucial for City to clog the center and prevent Napoli counters.
As if that weren’t enough of a pressure scenario City will then be faced with Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday with just four days rest. This is a Liverpool squad who can be absolutely lethal in the final third with the presence of Suarez who can create chances out of nothing in a style that seems to be common amongst South American strikers — with pure power. Suarez may be small but he plays like Tevez and Aguero by using his speed and power to burst past defenders and create opportunities. He is a player who will be clinical if City make any mistakes near their own goal. The key to this match will be to possess the ball as long as possible. City will come away with three points if they are able to keep the ball in the attacking half for most of the game. City’s midfield has the ability to create with short passes and that will be the best way to get Liverpool scrambling defensively.
Two days after Anfield comes a Carling Cup tie against a high-flying Arsenal squad at the Emirates. Arsenal’s attack is potent with the likes of Gervinho, van Persie, Walcott, and Ramsey. However players like Koscielny and Mertesacker have made Arsenal’s defense one of the most disappointing things to observe all season. However, depending on Mancini’s and Wenger’s priorities we may see fewer stars in this game which should favor City who have stressed the importance of depth at every position all season.
Then just four days later City face a surprising Norwich team. Norwich definitely have the potential to play spoiler in every match they play. This is a game that City needs to prepare for, Paul Lambert’s squad will want the ball all game and will not be content with simply playing a defensive game. If City begin to show signs of fatigue I would expect that Norwich will capatilize. They proved against Chelsea and United that they can certainly hang with the big dogs and they will fully expect to give City a hell of a battle. In truth I suspect this may be City’s first loss of the campaign, however a draw is more likely.
When City face Bayern Munich for their final group match it could be the most important game of their season or it could be a game that will be used for nothing more than getting players UCL experience.
For the love of my club, I hope that a win in Naples makes this game an exhibition. If City don’t win in Naples then this could be where everything falls apart. A must win game against Bayern Munich is a scary thought. This is a team who I can see making the finals if Robben, Ribery, and Schweinsteiger all stay healthy.
Then comes two games with London giants. First a trip to Stamford Bridge where Andre Villas-Boas will probably be just about on Roman Abramovich’s last nerve if his losing ways continue. Honestly this is a fixture that was more promising before the season started. At this point in time I can’t see City losing to Chelsea unless the match against Munich is a very physically and emotionally draining one. Then Arsenal travels north to Eastlands where three points will be at stake instead of a spot in the Carling Cup semi-finals. Again City should be able to prove that Manchester has overtaken London in the six days that separate these two fixtures.
After this, City’s schedule will be significantly easier with matches against Stoke, West Brom, and Sunderland who will be more determined to snatch a point than to actually win. However, Stoke will have some grievances after back to back defeats to city that cost them an FA Cup and three points back in May. After this City play Liverpool again on January 3rd, just two days after the Sunderland fixture.
This will be City’s biggest test of the season in all competitions other than their defense of the FA Cup. However, for Manchester City this is a very manageable couple of months with proper management. Mancini has built a squad that is more than capable of winning almost every game they play and this is where they will be tested the most. It will be a cold December in Europe but with a few wins early in the month you can fully expect City to be heating up pitches across Europe all winter long.