Against Arsenal it was initially his work-rate that impressed as we sought to keep Arsnal’s passing moves at bay. There was a decent opportunity where he turned and hit the ball at Almunia. This proved to be a warm-up as he took a second chance with a better connection to score his first of the season.
Arguably his contribution to the fourth goal was even more impressive. Tracking back and dispossessing Clichy with an excellent challenge, he turned defence into attack, sprinted upfield before laying the ball off for Wright-Phillips to score.
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Given – Needed to be alert in the second half as West Ham pressed. His finest moment was turning over a stinging shot from Diamanti. 7
Zabaleta – Justified his selection ahead of Richards. The Argentine tackled well, and linked up with the forwards intelligently. 7
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City saw off an initially limp West Ham side with a brace from Tevez and a free-kick from the recalled Martin Petrov. Arguably this was the most convincing performance of the season so far. West Ham kept plugging away in the second half, but there seemed less danger of dropping points than in any of the other fixtures this season. This alone is a sign of how the team is progressing.
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With Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez, City will be looking to a pair of Hammers old boys for the goals against Gianfranco Zola’s side tonight. Like Fulham last week, West Ham are a well organised side who like to play good football, and it will be an interesting test for City.
With all the likely challengers for the Champions League places (except Chelsea) winning over the weekend, the pressure is on for City to immediately get back to winning ways after the derby defeat. It’s quickly becoming apparent how victories need to be consistently churned out if we’re to break into the top four.
It’s not clear how City will line up tonight following the news that Stevie Ireland is set to miss the match following a stomach bug. Gareth Barry has made a faster recovery from the same bug and is set to play.
Hughes could stick with a central midfield trio by bringing in Zabaleta and pushing Barry forward into Ireland’s role. Alternatively Wright-Phillips could be moved infield, with Weiss given a start on the right.
Personally, I’d like to see us start with Tevez and Bellamy up front, and Petrov on the left. Having only two central midfielders may appear to leave us a little light against the footballing Hammers, but Tevez and Bellamy are both excellent at ‘defending from the front’. In addition, De Jong has been in excellent tackling form since his return to the side.
If Hughes wants to spring a surprise, he could start with Santa Cruz. It would be good to see the Paraguyan make his debut at some point, not least because the attack has lacked a focal point in the last two matches when Tevez has been asked to play as a lone striker.
The other selection dilemma is right-back, where Richards and Zabaleta are battling for the starting spot. Despite his problems in the derby, the height and strength of Richards may be useful in defending set-pieces in an otherwise fairly short team. Added to that, Zabaleta looked a little rusty against Fulham, which was a shame given his excellent performance against Celtic in his previous start.
For West Ham, Carlton Cole is the obvious danger-man. Parker, Upson and Green provide the experience in a side that features some cheap Zola recruits (Jiminez and Diamante) and talented youngsters (Collison, Tomkins and Hines). There could be a debut for Guillermo Franco up front. Their recent form hasn’t been good, but this could be deceptive. They were unlucky to lose to Liverpool last week, while Zola and Steve Clarke are canny enough on the touchline to work out any weaknesses in our gameplan.
Inevitably, Bellamy has featured in a lot of the pre-match bluster from both sides.
“I loved working with him because he tested me a lot. He has such a fire inside and it can be hard, but if you approach him in the right way he can give you a lot of satisfaction.
“He is honest and is not worried about telling somebody they are doing something wrong. Even to the manager.”
“He loves to play against his former clubs – he had a great time at West Ham and has a lot of respect for Gianfranco Zola and everybody at the club.”
“I know Gianfranco very well, having played alongside him for three years. I count him as a friend. He’s done a fantastic job there in difficult circumstances.”
Hughes on Santa Cruz:
“Technically, he is good enough. I will always remember the first training session he had at Blackburn and the reaction the other players showed when they saw what he had produced. He has the ability that you sit up and take notice of. I blew all my budget on him when I was at Blackburn and that shows you what I thought of him.”
There’s a danger we’ll struggle to break them down if Tevez is played as a lone striker, but hopefully we’ll see the kind of dominant performance we’ve been waiting for this season.
Possible line-up: Given, Richards, Toure, Lescott, Bridge, de Jong, Barry, Wright-Phillips, Petrov, Bellamy, Tevez.
Prediction: 3-0 to City.