They came into the weekend in first place, their 4-0 opening rout of Newcastle United vaulting them top on goal difference. Today in Wales, a second straight win to start their season should see 2011-12 champions Manchester City resume their place atop the Premier League table, with newly promoted Cardiff City standing in the way of Manuel Pellegrini’s perfect, six-point start.
As much as Edin Dzeko, Fernandinho, or Jesus Navas were on the pitch, Pellegrini was the star off it, his fingerprints all over the running start City made at the Etihad on Monday night. Goals from David Silva, Sergio Agüero, Yaya Touré, and Samir Nasri were the product of a typical Pellegrini-esque approach, the team’s 4-4-2 seeing Touré and Fernandinho control, Navas and Silva probe, while Agüero and Dzeko pushed.
On paper, it’s all a bit too much for most teams, let alone the Bluebirds, but playing their first home game in the Premier League, Cardiff City could have emotion on their side. And with two extra days’ rest, they could also have a fitness edge, though City’s deep squad and five days off should render that edge useless.
Last week at Upton Park, Cardiff began Premier League life with a 2-0 loss to West Ham United – a tepid performance in which Malky Mackay’s side only put one shot on target despite being ceded most of the game’s possession. Cardiff’s four attacking players — Fraizer Campbell, Craig Bellamy, Kim Bo-Kyong, and Peter Whittingham — combined for nine shots, but none of them tested Jussi Jääskeläinen.
That attack gets a major break today with the absence of Vincent Kompany. The City captain and central defender left Monday’s came with a groin strain that will sideline him three-to-four weeks. With the team’s other first choice center back Matija Nastasić and potential cover Micah Richards also out, Pellegrini turns to Joleon Lescott and Javi Garcia in central defense. Lescott is an accomplished English international (no problem there), but Garcia is a natural midfielder being pressed into service.
Depending on how Cardiff play, having Garcia’s distribution in central defense could be a bonus. If, however, City gets caught with both Touré and Fernandinho going forward from central midfield, an exposed weakness could be Cardiff’s route to an upset.
If Cardiff gets a surprise three points, it will be a nearly unchanged side that does so. Mackay returns 10 players from the team that started against West Ham, with only Andrew Taylor coming in for Declan John at left back.
For City, only Kompany’s absences keeps this from being an unchanged side.
If you’re not within Tottenham vs. Swansea on NBCSN, head over to NBC Sports Live Extra to check out streaming options for today’s match in Wales, one that kicks off at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.
Cardiff City: David Marshall; Matthew Connolly, Steven Caulker, Ben Turner, Andrew Taylor; Gary Medel, Aron Gunnarsson; Peter Whittingham, Kim Bo-Kyung, Craig Bellamy; Fraizer Campbell
Manchester City: Joe Hart; Pablo Zabaleta, Javi Garcia, Joleon Lescott, Gael Clichy; Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, David Silva; Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko