Head-To-Head

Thursday 19 December 2013 14:30

René Meulensteen and his Fulham side will be looking to secure back-to-back victories at Craven Cottage for the first time since April when Manchester City visit on Saturday (3pm).

High-flying City are likely to be without full-back Pablo Zabaleta after he limped off with a hamstring injury during their 3-1 Capital One Cup win at Leicester City in midweek.

The Blues were already without their top scorer, Sergio Aguero, after a calf injury put the 19-goal striker out of action for more than a month. Aguero was substituted during City’s 6-3 victory over Arsenal last Saturday and although Manuel Pellegrini has abundant options up front to replace the Argentinian star, he will still be missed.

Tickets for Saturday's game are still available to buy, priced from £49 for adults and £25 for juniors.

The opposition

City go into Saturday’s game in good shape thanks to a stunning 6-3 home hammering of Arsenal, securing their passage into the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League and booking their place in the Semi-Finals of the Capital One Cup in the space of a week.

It has been the culmination of an impressive start for new manager Pellegrini, who replaced Roberto Mancini in the summer.

City’s attacking play has been a revelation under the Chilean who managed Malaga last season and also had a spell at Real Madrid. Aguero has led the way with 13 league goals, plus six in the Champions League. His absence is a big blow, but one the Mancunians can cope with. Fellow striker Alvaro Negredo has settled into his new club very quickly since his move from Sevilla in the summer and the striker ranks are also made up of Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic – who arrived from Fiorentina in July.

The summer transfer window saw City reportedly spend more than £100m on talent new to the Barclays Premier League with their squad further strengthened by the acquisitions of Martin Demichelis from Atletico Madrid and Jesus Navas from Sevilla. Their most expensive signing was Fernandinho from Shakhtar Donetsk who cost a reported £30m.

In spite of this investment, their Premier League campaign this season has been something of a curate’s egg, with a stark contrast drawn between their home and away form.

While the 2012 champions have been playing champagne football at the Etihad Stadium - winning all eight of their league games and racking up 24 points with a goal difference of plus 30 - their efforts on their travels have been less impressive.

In the eight away league games played so far, the Blues have earned as many points. Defeats away to Chelsea, Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Sunderland have pegged them back, together with draws at Stoke City and Southampton. Their only two wins on the road have come at West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion.

Even though Pellegrini’s men have not enjoyed great away-day success, City are comfortably tucked in just three points behind Arsenal in the title race. They can also point to a much-improved Champions League campaign this time around.

They booked their place in the Last 16 of the elite competition for the first time last month and brought the curtain down on the group stages with a stunning 3-2 win at European Champions Bayern Munich. The draw for the first knockout stage has not been so kind to them, however, as they face 2011 winners Barcelona in what is likely to be the tie of the round.

Last time out

Manchester City 2-0 Fulham 19.01.2013

Silva grabbed a goal in either half to condemn Fulham to a 2-0 defeat at the Etihad back in January.

The diminutive playmaker needed just 95 seconds to open the scoring – and it was a goal that left Fulham cursing a loose pass that led to the opportunity. James Milner intercepted and played in Dzeko whose strike was parried by Mark Schwarzer, with Silva on hand to neatly clip the rebound in for 1-0.

The home side were in complete control of the first half but Steve Sidwell actually came close to an equaliser in the 31st minute when he bundled the ball against Joe Hart’s post as he contested a header with Zabaleta – it proved to be one of just two efforts by Fulham in the game.

Despite the Whites offering little in an attacking sense, the fact that they were just one goal down meant they were still in the tie, and that remained the case until Silva doubled his tally with a delightful goal midway through the second half.

A slick passing move culminated in Silva collecting the ball and breaking into the area before dinking an exquisite effort beyond Schwarzer and just inside the far post. Shortly after, he had a glorious opportunity to secure his hat-trick but dragged his shot wide having been put through one on one.

Dzeko, Milner and Aguero all had chances to add a third but each of them missed the target, although it mattered little as the Blues held firm to claim a deserved three points.

Players to watch

Vincent Kompany: City’s captain missed a chunk of their autumn campaign and in spite of the star-studded squad at Pellegrini’s disposal, his huge influence was missed. Signed in 2008 from Hamburg for what has proved to be a bargain £6m, the Belgium international is an automatic choice for his country and can expect to be an integral part of his nation’s FIFA World Cup Finals campaign. Kompany was the Premier League Player of the Season in 2012 and was included in the Team of the Year for two years in a row in 2011 and 2012. Strong in both the tackle and in the air, Kompany is a classic modern defender who has excellent all-round ability and shows great leadership skills.

David Silva: The mercurial playmaker, who has been a Spain international since the age of 20, was a big-money acquisition from Valencia in 2011. He is widely regarded as the finest creative midfielder in the league and has scored four goals in eight league starts this season. A starter in all six matches of Spain’s successful Euro 2012 campaign, he scored in the Final and was selected in UEFA’s team of the tournament. Silva finished with four goals and 10 assists in last season’s league campaign and signed a five-year contract extension to commit his future to the club.

Edin Dzeko: The Bosnian has been frustrated by the bit-part role he has been forced to play this season but now has a chance to prove a point following Aguero’s injury. Scored twice in the midweek Capital One Cup victory at Leicester and has three Premier League goals to his name this season. A tall and athletic striker, City paid Wolfsburg a sizeable fee for his services in 2011 after a phenomenal Bundesliga season in which he scored 26 goals in 29 games.

Magic Numbers

1 – Number of times Fulham have defeated Manchester City in the last 10 Premier League meetings between the two teams.

5 – Goals from Steed Malbranque for Fulham in Premier League games against City.

15 – All-time league wins by Fulham in this fixture.

16 – Attempts on goal by Fulham at Everton on Saturday during the 4-1 defeat.

26 – All-time league wins by City in this fixture.

37 – Peter Beardsley’s age when he scored in Fulham’s 3-0 win over City at Craven Cottage in 1998.

41 – Goals scored by City in their last 11 games.

203 – Height in centimetres of City keeper Costel Pantilimon (6’8”).

393 – Senior first-team games played in this country by Damien Duff – more than any player in either squad.

1908 – Year the two teams first met in a FA Cup tie which went to a Replay at Craven Cottage, Fulham winning 3-1.

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