SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - JANUARY 01: Man City player Edin Dzeko (r) battles with Sunderland player Jack Colback during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester City at Stadium of Light on January 1, 2012 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
We pay a visit to the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday evening and I thought I'd help Martin Jol a little by getting the inside line on Mancini's side. I spoke with Danny Pugsley, editor of Bitter and Blue, to get his thoughts on all things City, including their title challenge with Manchester United and their relatively poor form at home against Fulham.1. Obviously you find yourselves top of the league, but do you feel you're deserving of a greater gap over Manchester United, and if so, how come you haven't got it?
Almost certainly because of the form of United themselves. The pace City have set (even accounting for the dip in form so far in 2012) would see them well clear for the majority of seasons (and they are well on course for a 90+ point season). You can point to recent slips away from home, and this hasn't helped but their home form has compensated for this. At the halfway stage City had 45 points and I said that if they replicated that over the second half of the season they would top the Premier LEague come the end of May, and I still stand by that.
2. Which areas do you think are strongest in your team, and which individual will be most threatening to us?
The attacking third is one that City have largely relied on this season - and the area that has slightly stuttered of late - and they possess quality and depth in this area, evidenced by some of the numbers in terms of goals, chances and conversion that they have posted this season. Unlike the past couple of seasons they are not as over reliant on certain individuals, which has made them far harder to defend against.
3. Are you happy with the business you did in the January transfer window?
I'm not sure there were any expectations in terms of arrivals to be honest. From the outset it was clear that no real money would be spent but the signing of David Pizarro is an interesting one. Roberto Mancini clearly knows him well and if he can integrate quickly into the side he could be a very useful addition. There are some issues with form and fitness in attack so it is a little surprising Mancini perhaps didn't target this area, but it is always difficult to find a great deal of quality in the January market.
4. What would be Jol's best bet if we were to beat you on Saturday? Sitting back and hitting you on the break or stumping up the courage to attack throughout the game?
It is a difficult one as teams that have had success against City this season are ones who have defended smartly as a collective unit, but also who have been able to take a chance (or even chances) when it has presented itself. The difficulty that Fulham will find is that this has been when City have been away from home. Teams that have come with a mindset to contain and try and catch City on the break have been exposed. The best option for Martin Jol I feel is to try and press high up the field and make City play far deeper than they want to - thus restricting the opportunities for the creative aspects within the City side to cause damage.
5. How do you feel your season has gone so far?
After finishing third in 2010/11, the requirement was to mount a sustained title challenge, but I don't think anyone really anticipated a performance quite as they have managed so far in the Premier League and as mentioned earlier City in some ways can count themselves unfortunate not to have a healthier lead at this stage. That said, there have been disappointments in the Cup competitions. The Champions League was a venture into the unknown given it was the debut season in it but although City were unfortunate to be handed possibly the toughest group (proved by not qualifying despite gaining ten points) there was a degree of naivety to the displays and overall approach. More disappointing I think were the domestic Cup exits, for contrasting reasons: The FA Cup in exiting to United at the first hurdle was far from the outcome anticipated in terms of defending the trophy and contrasting that, to lose at the semi-final stage of the Carling Cup with a winnable final at Wembley within reach no doubt left a feeling of frustration.
6. Are there any players you would happily take from the Fulham squad at all? You don't have to say yes out of courtesy.
I haven't seen a great deal of Fulham this season to be honest but they are one of the sides that always seem to get decent results whenever you cast your eye over the results. He has started to get some praise of late but I think Clint Dempsey is a player who has perhaps not always got the credit he perhaps deserves.
7.Generally, we do quite well at the Etihad Stadium - our 3-2 win under your Sven era a particularly good moment. Do you think we stand a chance this time around of causing an upset?
Even with a couple of recent defeats it would still be a huge surprise. Don't forget that City have a 100% home record this season (that actually stretches further back into 2010/11) and there aren't many games that have truly been that close. Still, as you say Fulham have a decent record at City and they were the last time to prevent City winning at The Etihad Stadium.