Manchester City vs Chelsea: what should have been one of the biggest games of the season, maybe even a title decider, is instead a battle of this year’s also-rans. With City twelve points off the top and Chelsea even further back, this game certainly won’t take on the importance of last year’s nervy affair.
It’s really a lose-lose situation for City. Win, and they’ll still be miles off United. Lose and it’s the final nail in a title coffin that is already being unceremoniously dropped into the ground. Roberto Mancini must be dreading it.
But he shouldn’t be. City have had plenty of time to stew over the events of St Mary’s, where the Champions were humbled, even embarrassed by a team who played last season’s football in the Championship. Hopefully Mancini will have been showing the highlights from this game on every available screen at Carrington since.
Leeds were the unfortunate souls who faced the first backlash, on the wrong end of a thoroughly deserved 4 – 0 humping. The true test though will come on Sunday. As inconsistently as Chelsea have been playing, their position in the League does not lie. Chelsea are no Leeds, and they too have a point to prove. After a thoroughly dismal showing at Stamford Bridge, both teams will be hoping for more this time around. It certainly can’t get much worse.
Strangely, this period now feels eerily similar to how it did after the Emirates defeat last season. The title race was over, United were eight points clear and City looked a team in disarray. Everyone knows what happened next, so I’m certainly not going to go into it again. So can the same happen this time round? Well, no, probably not. Manchester City needed a miracle to overturn an eight point gap last year, it’s even less likely that it will happen two years on the bounce.
Nevertheless, we can take heart from the fact that in many ways the pressure is off. The title has got away, and the summer looks like being one of change, though it remains to be seen whether that’s both on and off the pitch. If City can begin playing with the same care-free fluidity that saw them sweep away the likes of Norwich and West Brom at the end of the last campaign, maybe the same will happen again this year.
A strong finish to the season will do wonders for everyone at the club, and might once again spark life into a club that seems to have been resting on its last gasp laurels for too long this season. In spite of the apathy that seems to have plagued the club this season, a couple of the players are showing the signs of life and fight needed if we are to launch a serious challenge again.
In the absence of captain Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta has led the team from the front, or from the right back position at least. Zabaleta is already a club legend, and his performances this season have made him the League’s stand out right back. He’ll need to be on top of his game on Sunday too to cope with the attacking flair of the likes of Oscar and Hazard.
At the other end of the pitch, Sergio Agüero reminded us last weekend just how good a player he is with an unplayable performance against an unfortunate Leeds defence. In truth, Agüero’s season has been disappointing compared to last year’s, but he still remains the club’s most dangerous attacking threat. If his goals against Leeds have dropped Agüero into a rich vein of form then we could be once again about to witness something special.
What is required now is for the others to stand up around them. Liverpool showed what can happen when an attacking team takes the game to an off colour Manchester City at the Etihad. That day we were lucky to escape with a draw, and Chelsea might not be so generous. City need to start playing again as a unit, with the likes of Samir Nasri and Yaya Touré echoing the heart of their captain.
Chelsea are obviously not the team of years gone by, and the rifts in the club are evident for all to see. Fernando Torres has been underperforming since he arrived, while others have fallen out of favour. However, write them off at your peril. An on-form Chelsea team is always a thing to fear.
In spite of this and going against all my instincts and history of watching Manchester City, I’m feeling strangely confident about this one on Sunday. It’s a strange confidence rooted in the fact that we simply can’t play as badly as we did against Southampton, coupled with the unfounded optimism that we will soon recapture the swashbuckling form of last season.
Whether this happens remains to be seen – maybe we can be worse than against Southampton – but the Manchester City backlash is long overdue. Hopefully now we will see the reigning Champions prove their worth.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @tewilkins