Manchester City v Fulham: Hosts may require patience at Etihad
Manchester City rarely score early against lower-level opponents and that trend looks worth following when they host Fulham in the FA Cup on Sunday, says Andy Schooler...
Manchester City v Fulham Sunday 26 January, 13:00 Live on BBC One
Manchester City's hopes of a Premier League title hat-trick may be all but dead but their chances of another historic Treble remain very much alive.
For all City's faults this season - and there have been many when compared to the last couple of campaigns - they remain on course to win three trophies. In fact, take a look at the respective markets and City are favourites to win each of the Champions League, Carabao Cup and FA Cup.
Their bid to successfully defend the latter continues at home to Championship high-fliers Fulham on Sunday - remarkably it will be their 10th game against opponents from a lower league since the start of last season.
The previous nine have all been won and they are just 1.13to win again make that the perfect 10.
During that period, Pep Guardiola has successfully been able to rotate his squad. In certain games he's introduced some young blood, think most recently Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Eric Garcia, but more often than not he's simply used his great strength in depth to bring in other top-quality senior players.
Quite who will play here is, as ever in the domestic cups, hard to call but a look at the bench for Tuesday's win over Sheffield United should offer some clues.
Claudio Bravo, Ilkay Gundogan, Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Phil Foden and the aforementioned Garcia were the bench-warmers at Bramall Lane, while David Silva didn't even make the matchday squad.
It is certainly worth noting that this game will be followed just three days later by a Manchester derby - the second leg of a Carabao Cup semi-final that City already lead 3-1 - while next weekend brings a trip to Spurs.
It's therefore unlikely that all those listed above will start this game, but it's also fair to assume a majority of them will. If that is indeed the case, it won't be a bad XI.
Injuries hurt Fulham
It is also open to question how much of a priority this is for Fulham, who have lost just one of their last eight games in all competitions.
They sit third in the Championship with the gap to the top two having narrowed considerably in recent weeks.
However, manager Scott Parker played a pretty strong side in the last round - just a sprinkling of fresh faces - and was rewarded with a 2-1 win over Premier League Aston Villa.
He also has the bonus of no forthcoming midweek game - their next encounter will be at home to Huddersfield next Saturday.
Parker's selection will be restricted somewhat by injury, however. Championship top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic (pictured) remains out injured, as does creative force Anthony Knockaert, plus Aboubakar Kamara and Neeskens Kebano.
Mitrovic has missed the last two games and Fulham have managed only one goal in those matches.
They have, however, been impressive at the back of late, keeping three consecutive clean sheets. Such defensive solidity will doubtless be needed here.
They are trading at 26.00to pull off the upset with the draw at 11.00.
City may have lost at Wigan in this competition two years ago but on home soil, it's hard to make a strong case for Fulham, minus their biggest goal threat, doing something similar.
There are, however, reasons to suggest they can at least be competitive.
Hector leading tight defence
That defence, the third best in the Championship, is one. A particular star of late has been new signing Michel Hector, who has made a fantastic start to his Fulham career.
The former Chelsea defender was actually signed in September and he was able to start training with Fulham but the paperwork could not be done until the transfer window opened. He duly went straight into the team and hasn't looked back.
If Fulham are able to keep this tight, he'll likely be a contender in any man of the match market at a big price.
Over 2.5 goals is its usual short price - 1.24 - in a game involving City but a case can be made for under 2.5 at 4.40 with that much-changed host side and Fulham's defensive strength.
However, there's a trend which works better and that regards the time of the first goal.
The Sportsbook's line is set at 18:00 and taking the 5/6 about the opening goal coming after that mark looks the way to go.
In those nine games against lower-level opponents, only seven have seen a goal before 18:00.
Meanwhile, this season only three of City's 17 home games (all comps) have had a goal before that mark and only two of those were scored by the hosts.
We all know any team can be blown away by City but Fulham's defensive record suggests they are well equipped to weather any early storm and the home side may well have to be patient.
For those seeking bigger prices, it may be worth focusing on the City defenders, especially if you believe the hosts will score several.
Defenders have scored six goals in those nine games listed earlier and, having scored in the previous round following a set-piece, Harwood-Bellis looks the best price of 9/1 in the anytime scorer market.
In domestic cup competitions against lower-league opposition, Man City's Phil Foden has been directly involved in nine goals in eight appearances (6 goals, 3 assists).