Manchester City’s priorities as they begin a hectic January with a trip to Watford on Saturday are to stay in the Premier League title race and improve their away form.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini can be satisfied with the manner in which his team responded to defeat at Arsenal just before Christmas, following up a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Sunderland on Boxing Day with a 0-0 draw at fellow title contenders Leicester City three days later.
The result at the King Power Stadium, which ensured that third-place City begin 2016 three points behind leaders Arsenal, was significant for being the first time this season that they have managed a clean sheet without Vincent Kompany in the team.
Club captain Kompany, a reassuring influence in central defence, will be missing for around four weeks after suffering his third calf injury of the season against Sunderland.
The partnership of Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala has often looked unconvincing in Kompany’s absence, and so their success in keeping quiet the prolific attacking threat posed by Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez will have offered encouragement for Pellegrini.
But despite showing signs of defensive robustness, City still have an issue with their away form, having not won a league match since beating Crystal Palace 1-0 on September 12.
Pellegrini, for his part, has tried to play down any suggestions that it is a major problem, saying: “I don’t divide the games that we play away or home.
“It was good to have a clean sheet at Leicester, but for me the best thing from that game was to continue playing the same way we had in the last two games, against Arsenal and Sunderland.
“We didn’t win against Arsenal, but I think we didn’t play a bad game. We played very well against Sunderland and I think we played very well also against Leicester.
“Maybe we have to finish a little bit better. Our attacking movement is important in that respect, but I think we are playing in the correct way.”
– ‘Reasons to be happy’ -In addition to Kompany’s troubles, Pellegrini’s squad has been affected by a series of injuries this season, but he will be able to call on left-back Gael Clichy, who missed the draw at Leicester with a minor knee problem.
Midfielder Fabian Delph is also over a minor knock and will be available.
Watford’s form in their first season since being promoted from the Championship has caught many by surprise with Quique Sanchez Flores’s side currently lying ninth, two points behind fifth-place Palace.
Monday’s 2-1 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur came as a setback, but the manager revealed that the tears of his 12-year-old son Paulo forced him to put the result into context.
“I’m always thinking that we need to keep our minds and that is important because we don’t want to lose our perspective,” Flores said.
“But we have lots of reasons to be happy. After the last match, one of my kids, Paulo, was crying because we lost in the last minute and I found very quickly 10 reasons to be happy with Watford.
“In seconds I found maybe 10 or 12 reasons to say: ‘Paulo, we need to be happy.’ We are competitive, we have a good connection with the fans, they are happy, we are in a good position, we are playing well and have the possibility to win a lot.
“We have 29 points and are really close to the objective. It is very important to be ambitious, but very important to be realistic because if not we are not enjoying the experience and I want everyone to enjoy it.”
Left-back Nathan Ake will miss the meeting with City after being sent off against Spurs, with Jose Holebas set to deputise.