Soccernet Preview: Burnley v Manchester City
Following the Lancashire derby defeat to Blackburn on Sunday, it seems the majority of Burnley fans have abandoned hope of avoiding the drop. It is not that they are too far adrift - they are just three points from safety - but rather that Brian Laws' arrival in mid-January has seemingly only hastened their decline.
Burnley's one victory under Laws, a 2-1 win against West Ham in early February, is the team's only victory since October. Of the eight games that have followed, Burnley's only point came in a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke. If Laws was, as has been suggested, brought in to gain promotion from the Championship rather than to remain in the Premier League, it looks as though he will get the chance to make those preparations sooner rather than later.
At Manchester City, Roberto Mancini was brought in with a stricter remit. It is believed that Mark Hughes was dismissed because the owners felt this season represented the ideal opportunity to break up the top four and results such as the 3-3 draw with Burnley at Eastlands in November - Burnley's only away point this season - suggested he was not the man to capitalise. Should Mancini fail to qualify for the Champions League, it seems likely that he, too, will fail to keep his job.
Form has been wildly inconsistent under Mancini. In three games against Stoke earlier this year, City drew 1-1 in the league and exited the FA Cup with a 3-1 defeat after a replay. In recent weeks, they were uninspired against Liverpool, needed an injury-time equaliser at Sunderland, lost 2-0 at home to Everton and were booed off after a poor first half against Wigan. Yet they bounced back to beat Wigan 3-0, saw off Chelsea and Fulham and, earlier in the year, beat Manchester United 2-1 in the first leg of their Carling Cup semi-final.
The potential is there, but unlocking it remains a problem. With City currently trailing Spurs by two points and Liverpool threatening to come into form, failure to beat Burnley for a second time this season would suggest City are not yet ready to break into Europe's premier competition.
Burnley player in focus: Chris Eagles. Even lifelong Blackburn fan David Dunn believes Eagles should be first-choice for Burnley and, after his introduction alongside Robbie Blake in the 1-0 defeat to Rovers, the Clarets looked a far better side. Brian Laws was booed by the fans when Eagles was substituted against Wolves and many are bemused by the refusal to make him a key part of the side. With victories now essential for Burnley, it is likely that the former Manchester United winger - with his ability to score and create goals - will be given the chance to shine on Saturday.
Manchester City player in focus: Carlos Tevez. Question marks remain over his partnership with Emmanuel Adebayor, but Tevez continues to deliver. He has scored six goals in his last five games for City, including a 12-minute hat-trick against Wigan on Monday night, and he continues to work tirelessly for the team. If City are to make the top four, he is their best hope.
Key Battle: Adam Johnson v Danny Fox. Adam Johnson has been one of City's star performers since his January move from Middlesbrough and will feel his trip to Turf Moor could be highly fruitful. Should he start out on the right, he could come up against 23-year-old left back Danny Fox. Fox has ability from set-pieces and in attack but can look suspect defensively and, for a man of Johnson's ability, that could be a serious problem for the Clarets.
Tactics: Burnley need victories, but they are unlikely to risk playing expansive football against a side with so many attacking options. Brian Laws has given the team a more direct approach, which perhaps is not ideally suited to a squad assembled by Owen Coyle, but they continue to work hard and will do all they can to make life difficult. Manchester City could use the skill of Adam Johnson and the drive of Craig Bellamy on the flanks, while Emmanuel Adebayor is likely to play alongside Carlos Tevez in attack again despite the partnership failing to gel.
Quotes: Fit-again Steven Caldwell on Saturday's match: "There's no point dwelling on the past: we need to start winning games soon. We need to focus on Manchester City on Saturday, which is a big game for both clubs."
Roberto Mancini urges his Manchester City players to step up their game against Burnley: "We have another seven games, and if we want to get fourth we must play better than we did in the first half against Wigan."
In the news: Burnley were in the headlines this week after Blackburn settled the Lancashire derby thanks to a Martin Olsson dive. Olsson admitted he went down in the area due to referee Mike Dean's reputation for giving penalties: "I knew this referee had given more than double the amount of penalties compared to his colleagues, so I took a chance." Brian Laws was furious about the situation, but the FA believe there is not enough evidence to charge Olsson with improper conduct.
Meanwhile, Sven-Goran Eriksson's agent, Athole Still, has said City's former owner made "a massive mistake" in sacking him. "It wasn't Manchester City - it was a person called Dr Shinawatra. I hope very much he is back in the Premier League and, if he comes back, he will do an extremely good job like he did at Manchester City until outrageously sacked."
Burnley team news: Steven Caldwell is fit again after a lengthy absence and will be in the squad and potentially the starting line-up. Brian Laws will also hope Stephen Jordan and Richard Eckersley can prove their fitness. Chris McCann faces a battle to play first-team football before the end of the season as he is still struggling following knee ligament damage.
Manchester City team news: Stephen Ireland and Martin Petrov may be considered after their fitness problems, but Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge are still some way away from a return. Pablo Zabaleta is suspended.
Probable Burnley team (4-4-2): Jensen, Mears, Caldwell, Duff, Fox, Eagles, Elliott, Alexander, Paterson, Fletcher, Nugent.
Probable Manchester City team (4-4-2): Given, Richards, Toure, Kompany, Garrido, Johnson, Vieira, Barry, Bellamy, Tevez, Adebayor.
Soccernet prediction: Turf Moor has not been a fortress for a long time and, having lost against their arch rivals last weekend, it is hard to believe there will be much confidence left. Manchester City should take all three points without too much difficulty.