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Sterling and Aguero can hand City early-season advantage at West Brom

10 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Sterling and Aguero can hand City early-season advantage at West Brom

Manuel Pellegrini's side could go five points in front of title rivals Chelsea on Sunday - providing they win their season opener at the Hawthorns

Establishing a five-point lead over defending champions Chelsea by the end of next week is a very realistic aim for Manchester City.

But before City host the title favourites at the Etihad on Sunday, there is the first Premier League fixture of the season – a trip down the M6 to West Brom – to navigate.

The opportunity to gain an early-season advantage over Jose Mourinho’s side, who dropped points at home to Swansea on Saturday, has certainly given Monday’s fixture added significance.

Conceding four goals against Real Madrid and Stuttgart respectively is hardly stellar pre-season form, but City look better placed to challenge for the league than at this stage 12 months ago.

4/6 – Manchester City to beat West Brom

Not being burdened by the pressure of being title holders should liberate Manuel Pellegrini’s men, while it is hard to believe Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure will perform as ineffectually as last season.

And then there are the new signings.

Fabian Delph has been ruled out of Monday’s match with a hamstring injury, but the England international will otherwise add industry and endeavour to City’s midfield – two attributes vitally lacking from their feeble title defence.

There has been a curious revisionism of Raheem Sterling in recent months. Tellingly, though, those ex-pros and fans questioning how good he is only did so after the 20-year-old made it clear he wanted to leave Liverpool.

Much has been made of Sterling’s £49million transfer fee but, like the cost of an average-tasting beer in an expensive hotel bar, a player is worth whatever the buyer is prepared to pay for it.

Sterling is English – thus boosting the token-gesture home-grown quota – and will add some much-needed speed and dynamism into a City side that sometimes looks short of legs.

Having flourished alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in 2013/14, the England forward has the potential to be devastating with Sergio Aguero and David Silva. He is an already-excellent player who is only going to get better.

In Aguero, City have – in addition to Suarez – the best out-and-out striker in the world.

5/1 – Sergio Aguero to score first and Manchester City to beat West Brom

The current Premier League Gold Boot winner, who fired 26 goals in 33 games last season, is over the muscle injuries that dogged him previously and a 30-goal campaign would surely take City very close to their third title in four years.

It would be of no surprise, then, if Aguero, who is fit again after a sickness bug, gets off the mark on Monday.

City’s recent record against their opponents – they have recorded seven consecutive wins against the Baggies and are unbeaten in their last five league games at the Hawthorns – is formidable.

But while it is a cliché, it is also not untrue to say that Albion boss Tony Pulis will have his side immaculately prepared for Monday’s match.

It will be intriguing to see how much more Pulis, who is managing an opening game of the season for the first time since Stoke in 2012/13, can extract from his players.

James Chester and James McClean are solid Premier League additions, but it is the arrival of Rickie Lambert which is the club’s shrewdest move.

Beyond his sincere emotional ties to the club, Lambert was never suited to Liverpool.

But Albion, who scored the most headed goals out of any other Premier League side last season, will play to the 33-year-old’s strengths.

6/1 – Rickie Lambert to score (anytime) and Manchester City to win

Boosted by Lambert, Pulis will be confident his side can threaten a vulnerable-looking City defence in the air and at set pieces.

Their free-scoring opponents, however, should have too much firepower and will expect to be two points ahead of Chelsea when the two sides meet on Sunday.

West Brom v Manchester City betting

14/1 daily special – Rickie Lambert to score from outside the box

READ: Darren Lewis: Spite, spats and bad blood – welcome to the most hotly-contested title race ever