West Ham Utd vs Man City: match preview

After all the excitement of repelling the Roman invasion last week, the real deal of league football starts on Saturday. The fixture computer has favoured us this year as we end the season at home, get Boxing Day at home and more importantly, start the season at home. The visitors are Manchester City, the kick off is at 3pm and due to the miraculous end to last season, the competition we are entering is the Premier League.

I have noted in previous previews that there are many comparisons that can be made between us and Ciddy. We are both clubs from large cities that have been overshadowed by more successful local rivals and we have similarly committed fan bases that have stuck by their club through life in the lower leagues. Both clubs, arguably, saw their best times in the 1960's and have generally been starved of much success since then and both have had a reputation for being a club that values decent football. These similarities have created something of a rapport between the two sets of fans, unusually for such a partisan crowd as our own.

Our histories have also taken a similar turn in recent months, as their previously unpopular board has been overtaken by foreign investment. Their new owner is Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, who took over the club in July. He has quickly demonstrated his sense of humour, happily adopting the moniker, "Frank" (in reference to his surname being like Sinatra, not anything Gallagher related). That is not the only nickname he is responsible for, his role at the club has led to some on the KUMB forum (and I daresay elsewhere) to rename his latest asset, Manchester Satay.

The blue moonies are optimistic at the arrival of their new owner and more importantly, the several billion that he has made from his successful communications businesses. He has wasted no time in procuring the services of a new head coach, the former England boss (and conqueror of the FA typing pool), Sven-Goran Eriksson.

"The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure"
- Sven gets philosophical.

To my mind, the interesting question regarding Sven's appointment is why he took the job at City. He has a proven track record at club level (note the UEFA Cup victory with Gothenburg and Lo Scuddetto with Lazio) and with all due respect to our opponents, I would imagine that he would have been offered positions that were of a higher footballing profile and that come with less weight of expectation.

This country has hardly been kind to him of late and he will know that working here will mean that he is scrutinised on the back (and more than likely the front) pages of the newspapers and also that he will be subject to choruses of "You let our country down" at every ground that he visits because of the perceived failure of the national team under his command.

I do not imagine he has taken the job for monetary reasons as he must be financially comfortable and even more compelling is that at the age of 59, this may well be his managerial swansong and possibly the job that defines his reputation (based on the theory that you are only as good as your last game).

I therefore think that one of two possibilities have driven him to take the job. The first is that he has a burning desire to prove his critics wrong. He aims to come to Eastlands and take the perennial underachievers out of mediocrity and towards the European places, and maybe even the silverware, that the fans have been starved of.

He will want to prove his value to his detractors, to demonstrate to the press, the followers of En-ger-land and to his former paymasters at the FA that they were wrong to underestimate him and the only way to do this without any shadow of a doubt is to succeed in England in one of the jobs that has proved to be beyond many a good man(ager). Either that, or, it's because of my second theory, which is Nancy told him to take the job and he did as he was told.

Whatever the reason, he has been a busy boy in the transfer market, bringing in a small posse of players who seem to have to pass the dual tests of being foreign and being a virgin, at least where Premier League football is concerned. Sven has admitted that he has not seen many of these play live, having to base his judgment on video evidence. In respect of that, you'll have to give me a bit of scope for passing on reputation rather than first hand evidence, as if their own gaffer has not seen them play live , what hope have I got?

Pleasing for us at the weekend, City are suffering something of a crisis between the sticks. First choice stopper, Swede, Andreas "Mr Bump" Isaksson has suffered yet another injury and will be out for a month with a fractured thumb. This leaves one of two 20 year olds in goal, either reserve team keeper, Joe Hart, himself struggling with injury or Kaspar Schmeichel, the son of Peter. The crisis may well force City into a recruitment effort, but to date (end Wednesday), it will be a relatively or very inexperienced keeper playing in front of the welcoming and sympathetic environment that is the West Ham half of the Centenary Lower.

The back four in their final pre-season friendly consisted of England squad member, Micah Richards on the right, the experienced Richard Dunne alongside the England U21 starlet, Nedum Onuoha in the middle and new Spanish left back, Javier Garrido, signed from Real Sociedad for ?1.5m. Competition for places will come from Sun Jihai and giant Croatian, Vedran Corluka.

The midfield has added a degree of flair with the acquisition of two wide men, Martin Petrov and ?8m Brazilian, Elano. The former will play on the left hand side but is more a winger in the Beckham mode with excellent distribution, than one who possesses blistering pace.

Elano could feature, if he is deemed match fit enough, and is a full Brazilian international who played in the recent Copa America including in the final where he laid on one of the goals. Alternatives on the right include Elano's compatriot, Deiberson Geovanni.

Hoping to get a start as one of the central midfield duo will be academy product and former youth team captain, Michael Johnson, a versatile all rounder who made a good impression on press and fans alike in the friendly with Valencia last weekend.

The other candidates to be involved in the middle are Gelson Fernandes, a Swiss U21 prospect and the creative midfielder, Stephen Ireland, who played in a second striker, tucked in-the-hole role last weekend, which means the possibility of one up front when they come to us. Ireland has had something of a miraculous summer makeover as the M head that he was sporting last season has sprouted, the bald patches having been replaced with a thick head of hair. If I was Mark Noble on Saturday, I would certainly be tempted to give his Barnet a little tug, just to see how much it moves.

Ciddy's lack of striking prowess at the City of Manchester was often reported last season and Sven has addressed this impotency with the introduction of two new strikers, Italian national, Rolando Bianchi and Bulgarian International, Valeri Bojinov (pronounced Bozhinov, if you say it proper, like).

The former was poached from Reggina for a sum of ?8.8m and is the more accomplished of the two. His feat of coming fourth in the Italian league scoring charts last year was a big factor in keeping his struggling club side in the top flight and was enough to earn him his first stint of overseas football. Bojinov is slightly rawer with a less impressive recent scoring record, but he is much more in the mould of an English striker, possessing strength and pace, a powerful and deadly left foot shot as well as the ability to put himself about a bit.

In respect of what is left, Bernardo Corradi still seems to be on Sven's radar as does the January signing, Emile Mpenza. Any one or two from the four is possible, though Bianichi seems to be highest in the pecking order, accompanied by one of the old guard.

"Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough"
- Man City supporters to fellow fan, Ricky Hatton at last week's friendly with Valencia.

I'm expecting the visiting support on Saturday to be in a state of some optimism as popular changes have taken place in the board room, the dug out and in the dressing room, giving them a real sense of optimism for the future. Whilst they do deserve some good fortune, I suspect that the number of changes will mean that it will take a while for the elements to gel rather than have an immediate impact.

While I hope in the long term things go well for Ciddy, I think the two games against them that we were subjected to last season means that I am well within my rights to wish upon them teething troubles of Janet Street Porter proportions, at least for the first 90 minutes of the season.

However, all of this information has little bearing on the result as our season always starts in the same manner. As is the usual pattern on day one, we will go a goal behind before rallying to win 3-1 and all spill out into Green Street singing "We are top of the league" on the final whistle. Looking forward to it already.

Enjoy the game.

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