David versus Goliath

In a week where rumours suggested that David Wagner could be linked with a return to Ruhr Valley and Town’s captain was questioned about a fan forum thread, I thought I’d strip back all the distractions and focus on one thing: the match tomorrow.

I’ve titled this as David versus Goliath and aside from the slight pun that I slipped in there (which I’m sure you’ll all appreciate) – I thought it was a very apt title for the task that Town face.

So what exactly are Town facing?

Well, to face the league leaders of the Premier League is a daunting task, regardless. However, this Manchester City juggernaut has been infallible and untouchable, up until now.

City’s only blip has been a surprise draw at home against Everton which seems increasingly bizarre as the weeks go on, considering Everton’s position and form.

This leaves City in a position where they’re currently five points clear of their noisy neighbours, Manchester United and they will have the opportunity to extend that to eight, if they win tomorrow.

Not only that, they could make history as the first Premier League side to reach thirty-seven points in just thirteen Premier League games.

The reason for this spectacular start to the season is twofold. Firstly, Manchester City’s potent attack has been incomparable to any side in the Premier League this season.

With forty goals in just twelve matches, Pep Guardiola’s side have more often than not just blown away the opposition.

The second reason why Manchester City have been so successful is their drastic improvement defensively, with only Manchester United bettering their defensive record so far this season.

Therefore, it’s not a surprise that some are already calling Manchester City: the champions-elect.

Do Town have a chance?

From pundits to casual fans, statisticians to bookmakers, they will all tell you that the answer to this question is a very abrupt no.

I, on the other hand, may be biased and blinded by my club allegiance but I’m a firm believer that in football, anything can happen.

On paper, Manchester City should comfortably stroll to victory as the disparity between the clubs especially financially is so vast. However, as Johan Cruyff once said, “Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal”.

That was certainly the case against Manchester United, as Town managed to defy the odds and claim a famous victory over the most successful club in Premier League history.

Just over a month since that famous victory, the opportunity has arisen again. At home, with the raucous atmosphere of a sell-out crowd, of course Town have a chance to upset the apple-cart and make history.

What do Town have to do to win?

To answer this, I could say that Town need Manchester City to have an off-day or for Town to have plenty of the luck but David Wagner and his side know that to win against the best, they will have to play out of their skin and execute a game plan to perfection.

The mental challenge

Well, I think the first challenge that Town face is a mental one.

There is undoubtedly an air of invincibility about this Manchester City side which has been fuelled by the premature media discussion about City’s chances of going the entire season unbeaten.

If Town are drawn into this discussion and believe the hype, the feeling of inferiority will have an impact on the field. Town’s players, staff and us as fans have to believe that Town can win.

Instead, I hope the players relish the opportunity to pick their wits and play against some of the very best in Europe right now.

Against both Manchester United and Spurs, despite the differing final outcomes, Town began the game showing bravery and confidence.

Once again, Town will need to do that.

A quick start and the importance of the midfield three

A quick confident start to push Manchester City on the back foot and not allow them to get into their rhythm will be absolutely crucial.

I think Wagner will revert to the midfield three to condense space and not allow City to play through Town. It will be down to the three man midfield to set that tempo and it will be them who have to push City onto the back-foot.

Against Manchester United, we saw this as Town started well and it was the cohesion and discipline of the midfield three that heavily restricted Manchester United’s creativity and fluency, we will need to see that again.

We will also need to see the aggression, intensity and intelligence to press high in the right areas but not leave space between the lines, that was the difference between the Spurs and United result.

Clinical edge and sharp counter-attacking

Like the United game, Town will be playing almost as the away side but with home backing. They are likely to be starved of possession and tested from the first whistle to the last.

So it is important that as well as performing well off the ball, when Town do get the rare opportunity to build an attack, they use the possession wisely and effectively.

I’m hoping that Town play more forward and direct than they would usually as the risk of conceding possession cheaply in their own half, against a side of this quality, would be suicidal.

Therefore, most eyes will turn to former Manchester City man, Aaron Mooy, as the man with the point to prove.

If he can link up with Laurent Depoitre effectively and be complemented by the pace and trickery of Tom Ince and Rajiv van La Parra, Town will have opportunities to counter-attack sharply.

As well as countering to create chances, Town will need to be clinical if chances do arise.

Against Bournemouth, despite the one-sided score-line, it was Town’s inability to convert chances into goals when they were dominating which ultimately cost them the game.

Whilst they are unlikely to have as many chances against City as they did against Bournemouth, a ruthless clinical streak in front of goal was the difference against Manchester United and could be the difference tomorrow.

Most pieces you read before this clash will be making assumptions simply of how many Manchester City will win by. I thought I’d offer you the alternative perspective. It may be overly optimistic and Manchester City’s undoubted quality and class could overawe Town but there’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose.

Already this season, we’ve seen Town face adversity and overcome it and we’ve seen that David Wagner has learnt the very harsh lessons of the Premier League extremely quickly. If he can create a plan and give his side the belief and ambition to execute it, he and his side could well produce the shock of the season.

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