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Behind Enemy Lines

Two Man City experts share their thoughts ahead of tonight's game.

Behind Enemy Lines
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After an impressive win in the FA Cup, Everton return to league action on Tuesday evening as they host leaders Manchester City.

Bossed by Roberto Mancini and home to an ever-growing roster of superstars, the Manchester outfit are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table having notched a staggering 60 goals in 22 games.

Yet following disappointing exits in both the FA Cup and League Cup this month, are the Citizens about to wobble?

To find out, we went 'Behind Enemy Lines' and spoke to Danny Pugsley, author of 'Man City 365', and XFM DJ and City fan Gareth Brooks...

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Winning the FA Cup at the end of last season ended City's 35-year wait for a trophy.

Having shaken off that drought, many pundits are tipping the club to now go on and become one of the dominant forces both at home and abroad.

The Citizens have been at the top of the table for much of this campaign, but have expectations really been met? XFM's Gareth Brooks definitely thinks so.

"Expectations have very much been met," he said. "It's all about the Premier League for City this year, so I really wasn't too bothered about the FA and Carling Cup. The Champions League was obviously a bit disappointing, but I think they gave a good account of themselves in their first season at that level. Plus, it was a tough group!"

Danny Pugsley, author of the Man City blog 'Bitter and Blue' is even more impressed. He believes Mancini's men have performed above what was predicted.

"After finishing third in 2010/11, the requirement was to mount a sustained title challenge, but I don't think anyone really anticipated a performance quite as they have managed so far. It is only the fact that Manchester United and, to a lesser extent, Tottenham have done so well that has prevented City from having a very healthy lead at this stage."

GOING ALL THE WAY

The season is, as ever, a long battle.

A little over halfway through and with many tough tests still ahead, can the blue half of Manchester really replicate their rivals United by being top of the table in May?

"Most definitely," said Pugsley. "Even with a cooling off from the form they showed at the start of the season, they are still winning. And although not as proficient in front of goal now, they have tightened up defensively.

"They of course still have the Europa League, which could be a distraction, but undoubtedly Roberto Mancini is focusing on the Premier League having got themselves in this positon."

MENTALLY STRONG

History has shown a side of expensively assembled talents isn't always the easiest to mould into a winning team.

According to Pugsley, however, supporters of other clubs shouldn't be fooled by their assumptions about City.

He said: "There are obvious strengths - the attacking threat they possess, a clinical nature in front of goal and players who can provide that moment of quality to win a game. But one thing that is often overlooked - or even dismissed - is the mentality of the side.

"The common perception from the outside is that they are a disparate group of mercenaries, but anyone who watches them regularly will know that this side is a unified one and one that has a great deal of determination. If anything, recent contentious refereeing decisions may have served to bolster this collectiveness.

"The defence is thought of as a weak area, but what is overlooked is that not only do City lead in terms of goals scored, they possess the best defensive record in the league too.

"What has been clear though, is that Yaya Toure's participation in the African Cup of Nations has left a hole in City's midfield."

Brooks is another to point out the importance of City's younger Toure brother.

He, though, believes the entire spine of the team is key to its success.

"Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva have been particularly outstanding," he says. "Plus, I don't think we've seen the best of Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli yet."

FACING EVERTON

City fans won't need reminding that encounters with the Toffees are generally a challenge.

In fact, Everton have won seven and lost just two of the last nine meetings between the two sides.

With that in mind, how do our experts see Tuesday's clash unfolding?

"I wouldn't like to say," muses Brooks. "Everton always give us a tough game and usually beat us. David Moyes has done an amazing job at Everton over the years, but I'll happily take the three points this time around!"

"I'd expect the game to be tight," adds Pugsley. "City have not fared too well at Goodison in recent times and Everton will work hard.

“They'll look to restrict time in key areas, but that is where David Silva can make a difference. He has an almost innate ability to manufacture space, and if he sees enough of the ball he may well be the difference in what I expect to be a close game."

Tickets for tonight's game against Manchester City are still available here.

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