Go fourth and conquer
Matt Le Tiss says Man City can finish fourth this season and will beat a West Ham side with little to play for.
Last Updated: 18/01/08 12:25pm
Manchester City v West Ham
3.30pm, Sunday, Sky Sports 1
Manchester City are playing West Ham for the third time this year and we're barely into the third week of January.
I didn't watch City's FA Cup win over the Hammers in midweek because I was covering the Newcastle v Stoke match for Soccer Special, but Gordon McQueen was watching it and he wasn't too impressed with the entertainment on show.
But I think we'll see a much better game on Sunday because Premier League games tend to have a bit more intensity about them and with vital points at stake we won't see a second stale game in a week.
I saw Manchester City at Everton last weekend and their flair players didn't really produce anything. I've been hugely impressed with Martin Petrov this season, but he didn't have one of his better days at Goodison Park.
To be fair, Everton closed City down really well and their defenders looked very assured, so it wasn't simply an off-day for City, but Sven's men really didn't show a great deal.
I was also very disappointed by the debut of Nery Castillo, who looked like a little boy playing in a Premier League match.
He hardly got a kick and appeared to be shell-shocked by the pace of the game on his first outing, but I suppose it was always going to be different to the football he's been used to in Greece and the Ukraine.
Hopefully he will improve in time and I've seen some video clips of him looking quite good. He seems to have quick feet, but he's quite lightweight and that might work against him in this league.
Elano was barely involved in that game and I suspect the Premier League season might be taking its toll on him as well. We're in the winter months now and this is a very tough league with a lot of games.
He missed a few games in December, but he hasn't come back looking fresh, which is a shame because he's clearly a good player.
I was expecting to see much more from them last weekend, even though they have collected most of their points at home. Their away form has not been as good and I can see why - they just don't seem to have the same belief on the road.
I didn't see the likes of Petrov producing the rampaging runs that he tends to give at Eastlands and the midfield was fairly subdued. They still looked solid defensively and limited Everton to relatively few chances, but the problem was they didn't create any themselves.
It's not all about the foreigners at City though, as some people seem to think. They've got plenty of players from the home nations playing regularly, such as Nedum Onuoha, Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland, Michael Johnson and Darius Vassell.
I think it's important to have that blend in your team and Sven is obviously aware of the home-grown players from his time with England. He clearly sees the English mentality as being an integral part of his team.
But despite my disappointment with them last week, I look at the table and see them level on points with Liverpool going into the weekend's games. From that position it is reasonable to assume that they can challenge for that fourth Champions League spot.
However, to break into that top four they have got to start picking up more points away from home and perhaps they need to be a bit more positive on the road.
I can understand why some West Ham fans are a bit frustrated at the moment because many of them have been brought up on good quality football at Upton Park with lots of passing and lots of movement.
Curbs isn't exactly like that. His Charlton side were a pretty drab team, who ground out results and they never really played stylish football. I think some West Ham fans are worried that he is going to take them down a similar route.
The last time I saw them play was when they came back to beat Manchester United, which was a cracking performance and I'm sure no West Ham fans were saying Curbs was taking the fun out of the game on that day.
But that is one of the few times this season when they have taken something after going behind and perhaps that is a reflection of a team which is fragile in those circumstances.
I hope they play two up front on Sunday because I find it very negative when they play Dean Ashton up top on his own. That system only works when you have got two out-and-out wingers who are going to get up and support the front man as quickly as possible.
West Ham aren't doing that at the moment. They are playing Freddie Ljungberg on the right and he isn't getting far enough forward and doesn't support Ashton quickly enough.
On the other wing, Matthew Etherington is a good left-sided player capable of good deliveries, but he doesn't really come inside to join in and get into goalscoring positions.
So Ashton is left with a big responsibility when he is playing up front on his own and, for a player who has spent so much time out with injuries, it's a lot for him to shoulder.
He's a big unit, he's not the most mobile player in the world and I feel that you need somebody around him to take the workload off him. Obviously Craig Bellamy would do that if he was fit, and I'm sure Curbishley's first choice would be to have two up front.
But the way this season has gone, I would say West Ham will struggle to get into Europe.
After going out of the FA Cup the other night I'd say their season is just about getting their injured stars fit again and possibly trying to get into the top half. I'd be surprised if they nicked a Uefa Cup spot.
Le Tiss Predicts
HOME WIN - I see this one being another City victory, but I think it will be a much more open game than the Cup match. There might be a few different players on show and I hope Curbs will ditch his policy of playing one up front. I can't imagine this will be as dull as Wednesday's game, so I'm tipping a 3-1 win for City.
Matt's Main Man
MARTIN PETROV - He was quiet against Everton last weekend, but he has been a very different proposition at Eastlands. I also saw him perform very well for them at the Emirates against Arsenal, so I think he can be the difference between the two teams.