Cheltenham Town have hit a rough patch of form, and Kevin Hatchard expects on-form Manchester City to show them no mercy in the FA Cup...
"Cheltenham aren't winning games or even scoring many goals, while Manchester City have won nine in a row, and swept aside Birmingham 3-0 in the third round."
Cheltenham Town v Manchester City
Saturday 23 January, 17:30
Live on BBC One
Realistic Robins ready for moment in the sun
I'm old enough to remember when West Country foes Cheltenham Town and Gloucester City were on the same level, fighting for promotion from the Southern League Premier, and I was at their most recent league meeting 24 years ago. Since Cheltenham won promotion at City's expense at the end of that season the Tigers have languished, and the Robins have fluttered into the Football League.
Cheltenham are well-established as a force in the EFL, and former Robins defender Michael Duff is doing a fine job with a playing budget that is far from lavish. Town are sixth in League Two, two points behind the other half of El Glosico, Forest Green Rovers. However, there are concerns at present - Cheltenham haven't won a game inside 90 minutes since the first week of December, they've claimed five points from their last six league outings, and they needed extra time to squeeze through their last two FA Cup ties against Crewe and Mansfield. That success against Mansfield was their only victory in the last five at the Jonny Rocks Stadium (it'll always be Whaddon Road to me) so they aren't exactly primed to cause an upset against the superstars of Manchester City. The nadir was the concession of a goal from a goal-kick in the midweek draw with Newport County.
The goals have dried up too. Cheltenham have managed just three goals in their last seven league games, and they've only scored multiple goals in two of their last ten outings. Hereford-born forward Andrew Williams is the top scorer, with six goals.
Duff was always a tough pragmatist as a player, and he's no different as a manager. He accepts that his team is a long way below City's standard, and he has described this game as the ultimate free hit. In terms of team news, Chris Hussey is a doubt after picking up a knock in midweek, but Sean Long should be available once again.
City showing their ruthless streak
It wasn't that long ago that stormclouds were gathering over the Etihad Stadium. There was debate over Pep Guardiola's future at the club, a drop in the intensity of the team's pressing and an inability to keep clean sheets. The Citizens were hammered at home by Leicester, beaten at Tottenham, and held at Leeds and West Ham.
Football moves quickly, and in the space of a few weeks, much of that debate has been silenced. Guardiola has penned a new deal, and the team has put together a sequence of nine straight wins in all competitions, racking up seven clean sheets in the process.
Defender John Stones is City's revival in miniature - he has recaptured his best form, just when such a renaissance seemed beyond his grasp.
While there's no doubt that City and Guardiola value the Premier League and Champions League above all else, their commitment to domestic cup competitions is admirable. They have reached the final of this season's League Cup, have won that tournament five times from 2014 onwards, and they also lifted the FA Cup in 2019.
There'll be some rotation here, with Zack Steffen expected to start in goal and a clutch of youngsters pushing for starts, but I still expect a strong City line-up.
Hosts to be outclassed
City have won their last seven FA Cup games against lower-league opposition by an aggregate score of 26 goals to four, while Cheltenham have lost all eight of their FA Cup and League Cup meetings with Premier League opposition. Pep Guardiola selected an incredibly strong line-up for the third round, which saw City steamroller Birmingham City 3-0, and I expect a similar outcome here. Cheltenham are in poor form, with City have their old swagger back, as well as a new-found solidity in defence.
We can use the Sportsbook's Same Game Multi to back City to lead at half-time and to win by three goals or more at combined odds of 2.13. Given City's solidity, there's an argument to back them to win to nil at 4/5.
Spanish star worth considering
Since arriving from Valencia, young Spanish international Ferran Torres has really caught the eye. He has 11 goals in all for club and country, including a hat-trick against Germany for Spain. Keep an eye on the team news, but if Torres starts, he's worth backing in the To Score market at 11/10.
Kevin Hatchard English Football 2020-21 P/L