Pep talk the order of the day for Preston North End boss Alex Neil ahead of Birmingham AND Man City games

Teen sensation Jude Bellingham after scoring at Stoke City (Getty Images)
Teen sensation Jude Bellingham after scoring at Stoke City (Getty Images)

Twice in four days Preston North End will face a City side coached by Pep.

Before they can think of Tuesday night’s League Cup clash with Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, there is a trip to Birmingham City who have Pep Clotet at the helm.

Clotet has been in charge since June when Garry Monk was sacked as Blues boss.

The Spaniard was No.2 to Monk but has stayed on in the West Midlands, although he still has the ‘caretaker’ tag on his job description.

PNE boss Alex Neil expects a similar approach from Clotet to that of Monk.

However, the Blues side is much changed to what it was last season.

Neil said: “They did change to a back three for three or four games but then changed back to a back four.

“Birmingham have come off the back of two very good results playing a back four.

“I think their players had adapted to playing 4-4-2 when Garry was there.

“What has changed is the personnel. They have lost Che Adams who was a big player for them.

“Jacques Maghoma has not featured much, Jota has left, Connor Mahoney has left.

“Maikel Kieftenbeld, a key player, is injured.”

In the Championship, the Blues have won four, drawn one and lost two.

That is an identical record to PNE who are two places higher up the table because of their better goal difference.

Said Neil: “When they have lost, Birmingham have tended to lose quite heavily.

“They lost 3-0 at Swansea and 3-0 at Nottingham Forest.

“Birmingham have been strong at home so we know what to expect.

“On the first day they went to Brentford, had 24% of the possession and won 1-0 with a header from outside the box.”

Birmingham face North End fresh from a 1-0 victory at Charlton Athletic last week.

Their goal came from 16-year-old Jude Bellingham who had scored the winner in their previous game against Stoke City.

Bellingham only turned 16 in June and in between his goals against Charlton and Stoke, played three games for England Under-17s.

He skippered England to glory in the Skyrenka Cup in Poland and won the player of the tournament award.

Clotet admitted it had been a risk to play Bellingham at Charlton but it was a gamble which paid off.

Said Clotet: “I took a little bit of a risk playing him.

“As I said against Stoke, I know the fans will want me to play him always.

“I took a little bit of a risk because he played three games with England, plus a game against Stoke in the last two weeks.

“We saw he had a little bit of cramp at the end of the game. I think he was the perfect player for that position and that role – so we took that risk.

“Obviously he handles the load of the games and training differently to the pros because his body does not have the experience.

“I will use him for his abilities but I will always try to handle the risk. “