A look ahead to West Brom

WBA preview

West Brom, like the other promoted sides Newcastle and Blackpool, have exceeded expectations thus far over the first quarter of the season and are riding high in the table with a number of impressive performances to date. The Hawthorns is far from a happy hunting ground with West Brom victorious in recent meetings between the sides (including the Carling Cup of course earlier in the season) and are riding a fifteen game unbeaten run at home.

These are undoubtedly tough times for Roberto Mancini. There is also the continual media focus on the club, primarily speculating about his future and David Platt is the latest to attempt to quell reports of unrest. He is no doubt faced with two tricky fixtures in the next four days with the derby looming large on the horizon and two further defeats in these games will only serve to intensify the media glare upon him.

But this of course presents an opportunity. Ambitions at the outset of the season were to secure a top four finish and even with back to back defeats, victory tomorrow will see the side with a five point cushion over fifth placed Bolton in the table.

Would talk of a crisis really be justified if the side head into the game against United in that position?

Mancini is fortunate that it appears that talisman Carlos Tevez looks set to return after reportedly taking part in a full strength training session earlier today (Saturday) following his return from Argentina. Make no bones about it, his absence creates a huge hole, not only in terms of talent but from a psychological standpoint as the side has yet to prove it can be effective without him on the pitch.

Perhaps less has been made of Nigel de Jong's absence, but his influence is arguably as equally as important as Tevez's and the drop off in form of both Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry without him has been evident. The hope is that he is fit to resume his place in the team and we may even see the strongest defensive formation for the first time this season as - injury permitting - the back four will likely line up as Boateng-Toure-Kompany-Kolarov; easy to forget of course Mancini has yet to field that quartet.

Mancini faces his trickiest selection in the midfield area. Adam Johnson has performed well from the bench, but the form of David Silva may well keep him there if James Milner reverts to the left hand side of midfield. However, the form of both Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure has been called into question so could Milner move centrally with Johnson augmenting Silva in a positive looking line-up behind Tevez.

A bold move perhaps for a manager under pressure but it could well be the spark the side needs to get itself out of the funk that the past couple of performances - which to be fair have been patchy, with some positive spells rather than the downright awful that most of the coverage insists it has been.

The best performances of the season have been controlled, possession based performances. The stats show that the three times City have fallen behind in games, they have failed to win and the side clearly are more effective controlling the game than chasing it.

With that in mind, starting games well hasn't necessarily been an issue (as shown at Wolves) but maintaining the control of the games has been and is that area that the side needs to pick up on and if a lead is obtained, the game needs to be snuffed out in clinical fashion - something they are more than capable of doing.

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