Man City: Nothing's Taken For Granted Until We Lift Trophy
The complexion of the title race changed again on Sunday as popular folk heroes Liverpool slipped up against the most predictable Chelsea line-up of all time and Man City comfortably saw off a Palace side which has exceeded all hopes and expectations this season.
Liverpool have led the way for a fair while now and will be understandably gutted to have opened a door that should have been closed, locked, and bolted. That doesn’t excuse Brendan Rodgers, members of the national media (Hi Paul Hayward, Graeme Souness, and David Maddock!), and some of the outer lunatic fringe of the Liverpool fanbase from reacting like giant babies, but it is easy to see where they are coming from.
This was, finally, looking like their year. It had everything; an unexpected charge up the table playing scintillating football. A long and painful wait for the club looked like coming to an end on the 25th anniversary of football’s darkest moment and greatest injustice. A beloved, talismanic captain who so desperately craved a title winner’s medal with his best ever chance of finally getting one.
It is easy to sympathise with them to an extent. It is also easy to laugh.
When the fans surround the team bus singing, “We’re gonna win the league,” just before a defeat which might lose them the title it is funny. When Gerrard forgot how to control a football and then fell over it was funny. When we are told with the force of religious dogma for weeks on end that everyone should be happy for Liverpool to win the title and then they go and maybe throw it away at the last it is funny.
Schadenfreude is a wonderful thing, and a vital part of football, but City players and, importantly, fans should not, and cannot, dwell on it. The most important thing to take from Liverpool falling at the last like a knackered one trick pony is that overconfidence will be City’s downfall.
Funnily enough, this is a lesson that City should also be taking from their recent history.
For Sunday’s Yaya Toure inspired victory over Crystal Palace, read the 6th May 2012 Yaya Toure inspired victory vs Newcastle. Beating the Geordies was a real tipping point as City won a tough game 2-0 and started to believe they could really win the title after thinking they might have thrown it away. Following the Palace game, a potential slip up won 2-0, there was a real sense among the fans that this title really could be on. The same excited butterflies started fluttering in the stomachs of the fans and, judging by their reaction after the game, the players as well.
But here is the danger. The hidden quicksand.
City almost failed against QPR two years ago and, being City, have endless potential to fail in equivalent or even more embarrassing fashion again. Hubris has been the downfall of bigger and badder clubs than City in the past and will be in the future. It is up to the players to find the laser like focus needed for the final three games.
Everton represented a significant stumbling block, but it is complacency at home to Aston Villa and West Ham which might see the killer touch applied. The players should look at Liverpool and use it as an inspiration to not let the same happen to them.
It is no exaggeration to say that many of both journalists in the national press and the average fans waiting in the wings of Twitter are hoping City will fail. You only have to read the paper any day of the week to see that there is no such thing as a neutral in the case of Man City these days. The vitriol can be astounding and the tag of “mercenaries” is, despite all the evidence negating it, still popular.
This, however, is better than what will happen to Liverpool if they finish second. They will be patted on the head, patronised to death by people trying to be nice and helpful. There are already rumblings of Liverpool being the ‘real’ champions regardless of what happens, and not just from Merseyside. Awarding Liverpool with the Moral Cup at the end of the season is just killing them with kindness.
Man City will, thankfully for them, get no such niceties. They will live or die in the next few games and they must take the lessons of both Liverpool and their past selves to see that it is the former. Nothing should be taken for granted until Vincent Kompany is holding that trophy above his head.