Manchester City have only played three Premier League games since their trip to west London just after Christmas, but in that time, they have beaten Arsenal and Chelsea and strengthened their grip on top spot. What have you made of the last month or so?
When they played Brentford, I wouldn’t say struggling because they were still winning a lot of games, but Thomas Frank’s men certainly made things tough for them, which made things tough for them when they went to Arsenal a few days later. The Arsenal game was one of the most difficult games they have had and it was the performance of a team that needed a rest. They had that, played very well and controlled the game against Chelsea and got the win they needed. Against Southampton, they didn’t play great in the first half-hour, but Southampton were very good and it was a good point, even if it might look like two points dropped in the title race. The message from Pep Guardiola and from City all along had been that the title race was not over by any stretch and perhaps the draw against Southampton will re-focus everyone else’s minds, even if the main intention had been that no one at City was thinking that; it will just help crystallise for the next few Premier League games to come.
In years gone by, Pep Guardiola’s side have been trying to keep their chances of winning the quadruple alive for as long as possible, but this season, they are already out of the Carabao Cup. With the Champions League knockout round next week, do you think that narrowed focus might help their chances elsewhere?
I think being out of the Carabao Cup will make them even more determined to win the FA Cup. They have only won one FA Cup under Guardiola, which is slightly unusual compared to their success in the Premier League and League Cup. It has often come at a time when they are focusing on other competitions or they have just played poorly in one-off games, so I think not being in the League Cup will help them push on in the FA Cup. The important thing is that City are normally at their best when they don’t have the Champions League to worry about, so between the group stages ending in December and the knockout rounds starting in February, so Brentford and Norwich are the last two games before the Champions League returns to provide another workload and another distraction. These last two games are the ones where they really need to maximise the results.
The January window saw City sell Ferran Torres to Barcelona, move on a fair few younger players and sign Argentinian international Julian Alvarez from River Plate. What did you make of their business on the whole?
I thought it was a very good window. The Ferran Torres sale was one that they weren’t necessarily expecting to happen at the start of the season, but it became clear that he wanted to leave for Barcelona and they were able to come up with the financial package to get a deal over the line. I think Torres will be an outstanding player in the game, but at the same time, he was not getting in the City team. He had been injured this season, but their best football in the last two seasons has been without him in the team, so to be able to get the kind of money they did for someone who was not a first team player was really good. Alvarez is one for the future, we are told. He is South American Player of the Year, so he is a very good footballer and he is a No 9, which City don’t have at the moment, but they have decided that they don’t need him for this season, which probably tells you where they think he is at.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Wednesday night?
Probably Joao Cancelo, at the minute. Kevin De Bruyne (above) has been in very good form, but I would think the way Brentford play might stifle him a little bit – that will be his cue to get a hat-trick! Cancelo is just an unstoppable machine. He plays every game on the right or the left and few opposition teams have been able to stop him creating chances. He has also been much better at his defensive work, though he was caught out at Southampton and he was caught out against Fulham in the FA Cup. He will pose a threat to Brentford, but equally, that might be the side Brentford want to target if they are looking for some joy against City.
How is Guardiola likely to set up at the Etihad?
Most of his 11 are pretty easy to pick, before you get to the forward line. I would think it will be Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte at the back, with Kyle Walker, Cancelo and Ederson; Rodri, Bernardo and probably De Bruyne with the form his is, though Ilkay Gundogan did come back in at the weekend. Then the three most in-form forwards are probably Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden.
You correctly predicted back in December that the reverse fixture would be tight game, with Phil Foden’s first half goal the one that earned City a 1-0 win. What’s your score prediction for this one?
I will go for a 2-0 City win, but I think it will be tight again.