The Manchester City football club are within attainable distance of their first top-tier title since 1967-68. Athough a perfect run to close out would be optimal, there are five matches in particular that they must win.
Despite a ravaging early season run through the competition—in which goals poured in with a likeness akin to the efficiency of a lifelong Guinness-pouring barman in a balmy Mancunian boozer—after yesterday’s top-of-the-table shift, the Blues find themselves between Manchester United and a hard place.
Currently, due to a combination of City's 1-0 loss to Swansea and United's 2-0 win over West Brom at Old Trafford on Sunday, the Reds have taken hold of top position of the table. The Blues had held the top spot since October 15th.
Although United’s late-season aggro to City’s ascent was to be expected, the corresponding meandering with which the latter has lately engaged the task at hand could result in the kind of consolatory binging even beyond the means of the aforementioned barman’s wherewithal to supplant.
City have excessive business to attend to, and a compressed slate to handle their endeavours. Among the remaining 10 matches, here are the five which could prove most vital to their proposed title conquest.
For a 2011-12 Citizens collective, carrying the weight of 44 years of title-longing on their collective shoulders, the work towards reconciliation begins with a March 21 visit to Ethiad Stadium, by Chelsea.
Those other Blues already retain a winning record versus City during the season, as they were the side responsible for relinquishing City's early undefeated record, with a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in early December.
In addition, being that City's next scheduled match is a non-EPL contest on March 15 against Sporting Lisbon, prior to the Ethiad showdown with Chelsea on March 21, while United will have relegation-ready Wolves this coming Sunday the 18th, several points could be tacked onto that margin by the Reds in the meantime.
There is already a rumor swirl that Roberto Mancini will potentially reintroduce formerly mean-mugging striker Carlos Tevez back into the fold for the Chelsea clash. A clear message that regardless of the Argentine's progress in training, the Italian is becoming increasingly aware of those mounting beads of perspiration collecting on the edges of his temples cleverly graying hair.
Of the four losses on the season, two of them came to the teams that Man City plays in consecutive matches, in the coming weeks; the previously cited Chelsea, as well as Sunderland. The latter was able to handle City in there other encounter, at the Stadium of Light, on a Ji Dong-won injury-time winner, for the final 1-0 scoreboard separation.
Although the Black Cats have lost more than they have won at 10-11, with seven draws. Based on City's defeat yesterday to another middle of the pack club, in Swansea, Mancini and co. would do well to disallow any doubt with a convincing display against Sunderland at Ethiad.
The April 8 encounter is a match not to be taken lightly, as well as an opportunity to avenge a loss which by all intents and purposes should have been more than avoidable in the first place.
The Gunners are 10-2-2 at home in the current campaign, while the Sky Blues have been less than impressive and more vulnerable in their ventures beyond the comfort of Ethiad, at 7-3-4. While Arsenal may not be playing for No. 1 or even runner-up to the top spot, they are currently in proximity of third place Tottenham, separated by a point, with visibility on upending Spurs.
Despite the December 18 encounter at Ethiad which City won by a narrow 1-0 margin on a 53rd-minute goal by David Silva, the Gunners have recently put forward stellar form, winning their last five matches in a row.
With three games upcoming against sides which they have previously disposed of this season, namely, Everton, Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers, Arsenal could very well be in the midst of an eight-match winning streak going into their April 8 encounter with the Blues. This potentiality in tandem with the prospect of disrupting City's quest for long-awaited Premier League hardware, will prove this encounter to be a formidable task for the title-hungry Citizens.
Although West Brom, from a position standpoint, are below the EPL equator, they played City to a 0-0 draw in their other encounter this season, which also represented the first match of the season that the Blues were held goalless.
This match is an additional entry into the category of one that City should not discount in terms of the opportunity that it presents for a convincing win with the accompanying points to be gained, in a tight title race going into the season's sunset.
Man City manager Roberto Mancini proved, following the disappointing effort to Swansea, that his vision is tunneled towards the April 30 match with Sir Alex's side. He stated, "Today was not critical. I think this championship will be decided with three games to go," which despite City's season-long retention of the top spot, seems only appropriate, as a potential stamp on the potentially redemptive nature of the season.
The Reds have won seven of their last eight games dating back to their December 31 loss at home to Blackburn, which among the seven teams they face prior to the April 30 clash with City are the only remaining opponents to have beaten United on the season.
As was to be expected, the road to City's first significant title in more than four decades will come with significant consternation from United, and Sir Alex, is already queuing up his quotable self, for the challenge ahead.
As he proclaimed following the 2-0 win over West Brom, on two Wayne Rooney goals:
"We have that experience and it does help, we won't get nervous. Against West Brom we kept playing our football even at 1-0 when the fans were thinking 'just get us a second'. It didn't concern the players one bit. It is good to see that kind of temperament.''
Certainly both managers as should be expected are laying the groundwork for a momentous match to come, but neither side, especially Mancini's men who have less recent experience to draw from, can discount the matches prior to April 30 at Ethiad. And despite the early-season thrashing, 6-1, that the Blues inflicted to the collective skin of the Reds, the end of April match will surely be make or break to Man City's title hopes.