Friday, 9 January 2009

Pompey preview

I had hoped that I would be able to see the City debuts of, if not Kaká or David Villa, then at least Roque Santa Cruz and Scott Parker on Saturday. I'm looking forward to seeing Wayne Bridge, but it would be be better if we had more good players playing.

Because without Ireland and SWP, and probably Robinho, we're completely without attacking quality. One of the reasons what happened against Nottingham Forest happened was because none of those players - our three good attackers this year - were not on the pitch from 24 minutes in. We were left with a combination of the anti-Hughes players (Elano, Jô, Hamann), the inexperienced (Caicedo, Sturridge) and the useless (Vassell, Ball, and, increasingly, Fernandes). No wonder they didn't put in a performance for the manager.

I fear we may see more of the same tomorrow. Wayne Bridge will be a big improvement on Michael Ball (but so would Javi Garrido, quite comfortably) but apart from him it will be more of the same. The big unknown, of course, is Robinho's fitness. As I write this (6pm) all I can find is that Robinho is 'a doubt'. If he doesn't play I don't expect anything. If he does, maybe we'll pick up a point or three.

The back five picks itself: Hart, Bridge, Dunne, Richards and Zabaleta should start. The midfield three is difficult. Vincent Kompany, for sure. The other two slots are less clear. Unfortunately we can only bench one of Didi Hamann, Gelson Fernandes and Elano - and there are compelling cases to drop all three of them. If Robinho doesn't play, the sheer lack of quality in the side would commend playing Elano. And if he plays, Didi Hamann cannot really, or else we would get wholly outrun in midfield. Should Robinho shake off his injury, we would be safer with the solid base of a Kompany-Hamann-Fernandes trio. We haven't started those three in combination yet, and it should at least help us to get a point.

Up front, it should be three from Robinho, Sturridge, Caicedo and Vassell. If Robbie plays it's between the two Englishmen to play right wing, if he doesn't they should go either side of Big Phil. I suppose he could start Jô or Ched Evans, but I'd probably rather he didn't.

As bad as all this is, Portsmouth are in a worse state than we are at the moment. Of last year's cup winning team, they've lost Muntari, Diarra and Defoe to transfers and Diop to injury. They look pretty poor at the moment, with Crouch leading the line in a 4-5-1. I honestly have no idea who plays for them in central midfield now: Mvuemba? Davis? Wilson?? But I remember hearing that Brighton and Forest were both in bad spells when we played them...

I don't have a very good record at City games at Fratton Park - I've seen two losses and a draw. There was the 0-0 last November, just as the Eriksson era was starting to drift away from magical towards Stuart Pearce-style mediocrity. Vassell was the lone striker. I was at the 2-1 defeat in 2005/06 where Pedro Mendes scored two late wonderstrikes to kickstart Pompey's survival campaign. And then there was a defeat by the same scoreline in the First Division in 2001. Christian Negouai and Leon Mike made their debuts. I'm not at all confident of bucking this trend tomorrow.

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