Manchester City face West Ham in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final on Wednesday at the Etihad. It’s a competition that offers Manuel Pellegrini a great chance to win his first piece of silverware as City boss, and, in fact, his first as a manager since guiding Villarreal to the Intertoto Cup 10 years ago.
After a trophyless campaign last season, the City players will be keen to get back to winning ways. If City can negotiate a way past the Hammers over the two legs, a potential Manchester derby awaits them in the final.
A number of tactical battles will determine the outcome of the first leg and here we take a look at some of the key areas.
Alvaro Negredo vs Roger Johnson
With a crisis at centre-back after injuries to a number of first-team players, including the excellent Winston Reid, Sam Allardyce has acted by bringing in the experienced Roger Johnson on loan from Wolves until the end of the season.
In the 14 matches played at the Etihad this season in all competitions, City have scored 53 goals, so keeping a clean sheet ahead of the second leg looks like a difficult task for West Ham. Johnson will be key to their chances.
His return to the top level may take some adjusting, but he will have to adapt quickly if he is going to keep Negredo quiet.
It'll be no easy task. The Spaniard has had no problem adjusting to the English game, and has caused almost every defence he's come up against problems. He is strong, quick and confident, and after being withdrawn from the action early on Saturday he is likely to start. He bagged his 15th goal of the season against Blackburn and has been in exceptional form all season.
It will be difficult for Johnson, if he does start, to know the best way to defend against Negredo. Go tight, and he can use his strength to hold the ball up and bring others into play; drop off and give him space and his pace and skill can cause problems.
Yaya Toure vs Alou Diarra
The key midfield battle is likely to be Toure vs Diarra. Given the importance of the match and the fact that Toure started City's FA Cup match at the weekend on the bench, he is likely to play.
The Ivorian has had less defensive duties this season, given much more licence to attack than previously in his City career and has an impressive 12 goals so far this season. With the shackles off, he is now doing far more damage in the opposition area.
The job of stopping Toure will fall on Alou Diarra, West Ham's French midfielder. Diarra has excellent defensive qualities, but at 32 he lacks the energy he once had. The power and pace of Toure's forward runs could prove overwhelming.
If Toure is allowed to dictate play, City will be difficult to stop.
Pablo Zabaleta vs Matt Jarvis
City have had a right-back problem in recent weeks with the absence of Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards, however, the Argentinian is fit again and likely to play this one.
In addition to his attacking duties, Zabaleta will have to stop Matt Jarvis, who could prove to be the main supply line for West Ham's forwards. He is capable of delivering exceptional crosses into the box and making sure he is nullified will be vital.
Zabaleta has proven over the last 18 months that he is one of the best right-backs in Europe. His performance against Franck Ribery against Bayern Munich in December was outstanding, not once letting the Frenchman go past him.
Jarvis will have to play the game of his life to get much change out of Zabaleta.
Capital One Cup semi-final
First Leg - Jan. 8: Manchester City vs. West Ham
Second Leg - Jan. 21: West Ham vs. Manchester City
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.
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