After a lukewarm road win against Aston Villa 1-0 today, but a win on the road nonetheless, Manchester City regained top spot of the table from Manchester United. The latter had less than 24 hours to relish the accommodations of such positioning, before the Blues' victory at Villa Park, with the difference in the balance between the two sides, a Joleon Lescott 63rd minute strike.
This past weekend's two team rendition of musical chairs between the Manchester's seems to represent a preview of party games to come between the clubs, for the remainder of the campaign. In such contestable championship pursuits, especially considering the pressure to reside topside falls to the collective shoulders of City. It will be imperative for certain players to assume and embrace catalytic roles for the remainder.
In the pages that follow, a look at five such players who must endeavor to maintain and exceed expectation, if City are to remain in title contention, and ultimately and collectively hoist hardware come season's end.
Based on recent chatter regarding the aboriginal looking Argentine, it seems that Roberto Mancini has come to terms with the idea of excepting Tevez back into the fold. This no doubt has much to do with the increase in intense pressure that the City coach has felt in recent weeks, based on the ascension of the Reds, and the tepidity of his own club.
Despite the onslaught of barroom worthy vulgarity that would accompany any Tevez introduction onto the pitch at Ethiad Stadium, which seems imminent, the prospect alone introduces a new angle to the speculation that has shadowed the striker throughout the current campaign.
As ridiculous as the Tevez saga has been to date, it has not proved distracting enough to derail the title prospects of the club, yet the question on the mind of every Mancunian supporter of the Blues is, “How would Tevez' return to the team at this critical juncture, effect the ultimate outcome of a so far sensational season?”
Mancini's public declaration has opened the door, and ultimately the reaction of supporters is not as relevant as Tevez' own teammates willingness to follow the lead of their coach towards his reinstatement. The obvious questions are towards his conditioning and desire to accept a newly configured role on a team that has maintained without him this season.
There is no doubt that in what will be a hotly contested race to the finish in the standings, the addition of a striker with the type goal scoring prowess that Tevez has, would relieve some of the pressure on City's other goal scoring threats. Yet, his ability to simply come back, accept his role, and score goals would be the ideal scenario, which doe s not account for how his insertion this late will disrupt team chemistry, and to what degree.
Regardless of the severity of backlash against Tevez, which was and still is legitimate, in what recently has been a tumultuous period of the season punctuated by goal scarcity, taking a chance on a man who scored 20 goals in 28 appearances last season could prove significant to the season's conclusion.
Unfortunately, Mario Balotelli has entered the ranks of infamous athletes whose names usually reside too often in the sentence, “That's just Mario being Mario.” This being unfortunate because often times these are the athletes who frustrate fans the most; as they allow their off the field nonsensical ways, battle their on the field abilities for headline supremacy.
However, what has never come into question is Balotelli's ability and potential on the pitch, and innate charisma and polarizing characteristics as a player. Despite currently serving a four game suspension for showing the heel side of his boot to Spurs' Scott Parker, in his limited 15 appearances this season he has 9 goals, and surely his success and composure would prove vital to the title push that remains.
With his second consecutive clean sheet in today's match against Aston Villa, Joe Hart is going to have to make such performances the rule, going forward through the duration, especially in lean periods of scoring.
The tightness of the stretch run ahead will require Hart's ability to supersede expectations in the solitary confinement of the box, surely a test that if passed, will prove to be an evidential note in this season's narrative.
Much in the way Hart's ability to prevent goals in tight games late in the season will become more heavily counted on, so to, will Lescott's ability to manage the traffic that burdens Hart. Making his need to remain consistent in the defensive portion of the pitch primary to future results.
As significant as City's strikers abilities to put shots in the back of the net is, the setup to such opportunities is an even more crucial component of such moments of celebration.
If Silva can retain the form, pace and passing prowess in this juncture of the season, that in the month of October resulted in his being awarded Premier League Player of the month, it will remove pressure from the formidable stable of Blues' strikers. This in turn should result in the kind of looseness and offensive productivity that colored the initial period of the season, which would prove momentous to the end of the season finish.