Man City: Two More Routine Wins & We Are Champions Again
The job is 60 per cent done. Three down. Two to go. No guarantees until the arithmetic brooks no argument. Before Manchester City played West Bromwich Albion on Easter Monday, I pointed out that five wins from their remaining five games would either win City the league or get them very close indeed.
This wasn’t a huge insight. It was just a tuning out of received wisdom, Fleet Street’s finest, Alan Hansen and Robbie Savage and a focus on mathematics and the fact that plenty of teams have won five on the spin and will do so again in the future. Crystal Palace have managed it this season. It’s the sort of form that wins Manager of the Month – and we know what invariably happens after that. Punters call it a curse. Bookies, rather more correctly, describe it as regression to the mean. Fourteen successive wins is almost unheard of.
If Liverpool had gone fourteen from fourteen, that would have been a stunning achievement and there is no doubt that the spoils would have been thoroughly deserved, but they couldn’t do it and the door opened. The closing stages of their match at Palace made for compelling television (so I’m told as like any good City fan, I was watching the snooker) but hasn’t really changed the calculus –although there’s no point denying that it is better to have a small margin for error than not. City still need to hold serve. They could still royally cock it up.
The lesson for City (and for all A-level English Lit students reading this) is about the danger of hubris. If you still haven’t got the concept and how it plays it out in Hamlet and have exams on the near horizon, just think of the scenes on the pitch at Anfield after they beat City. That’s the idea, just don’t put “sort of like Steven Gerrard” in your essay, and from City’s point of view, avoid this pitfall at all costs. At the moment, Liverpool look like the Dane while City are playing the Gravediggers, but the roles could still swap.
Chelsea’s form has been curious. The bus was parked exquisitely at both Anfield and the Etihad, but crashed into a low bridge causing a nasty mess and a two hour tailback against Villa, Palace, Sunderland and Norwich. That’s why their chance has gone.
Interestingly, City have also suffered mishaps against three of those four this season, but crucially not when it really,really mattered against Crystal Palace. Against Everton, a big game without doubt but not to “go again” with the second worst footballing cliché of 2014, necessarily a pivotal one, they got the job done. Coming back from a goal down, Edin Dzeko did the square root of not much other than score two goals, one excellent, one tap-in, and then annoy the referee and Everton fans in equal measure.
Sometimes he doesn’t look a player at all, but boy does he score important goals – and the three at Selhurst and Goodison are additions to an already weighty portfolio. His first goal for City was a late equaliser in the cup at Notts County. Just over 100 days later City won their first trophy in 35 years and he has carried on in similar vein ever since.
Now it’s Aston Villa, a team that it should be noted beat City at Villa Park last September. What is impressive is the confidence I have as a fan that the club’s focus is entirely, 100 per cent, completely on that match. City just need to win their next game. The opponents after Villa haven’t been mentioned and won’t be in this piece, but by 10 o’clock on Wednesday night, they will have City’s full, total and undivided attention.
The club, the players and the fans always knew there would be at least one late-season bump in the road. We are all hoping that bump was Ross Barkley’s worldie on Saturday, but it may not be – it may still have to be negotiated.
But the focus is there. Manuel Pellegrini may be having to manage some tired bodies and nurse less than fully fit key players over the last week of the season, but he does seem to have a squad of clear, uncluttered minds to work with. They know what needs to be done, and if it’s done a little less dramatically than in 2012, there will be no apologies forthcoming from East Manchester.
City did their bit for the global appeal of the Premier League in 2012, and we’re just about recovered from the experience now. The plan is for one match to be won reasonably uneventfully. And when that is done, win another home game in routine fashion.
If an exciting, unpredictable season ends with a gradual fade rather than a thunderous crescendo, that will be just fine by us.
Follow Mark on Twitter, @mellotrono