Manchester City’s hopes of securing their first league title in over half a century took a huge blow Saturday as their perfect home record was upset by the most unlikely of teams. Sunderland went into the Etihad playing with the kind of determination that would have you thinking they were the ones just trailing Manchester United in the title race.
Nicolas Bendtner has finally decided to show the world “hey, I can play,” heading in a goal before the half and assisting on another. Sebastian Larsson got the other two for the Blackcats, putting the visitors up 3-1 with 35 minutes to go.
What seemed to be a devastating day had some salvation as Mario Balotelli and Aleksander Kolarov netted within a minute of one another to grab one point, keeping them within two points of the champions ahead of the Red Devils' match against Blackburn this Monday.
The atmosphere around Emirates seemed to emanate some kind of joy at the valiant comeback. After all, they looked awful for nearly 85 minutes, unenthused and completely void of the type of energy you need to make that late surge.
So when Kolarov hit his strike that leveled the score, the natural tendency was for the undulation that takes over in a roaring comeback to dominate the emotions of the fans. But now 24 hours removed, what was accomplished by that tie?
Sure, they only dropped two points instead of three, making the showdown at Old Trafford on April 30 relevant. Should United slip up somewhere, the winner of that game would then have the title outright and control their own destiny.
But that is a very tentative statement: “should United slip up.” They by no means have it easy the rest of the way in the respect that no game in the EPL is a gimme. But you also would not look at a schedule where the most difficult competition remaining is Sunderland away, a game that may not matter by that point, and predict any miscues by a team that is near perfect historically in the late months.
However, there are issues beyond the margin United is currently ahead that may derail the train more quickly. The millions of pounds that brought these many strands of personalities and icons together was a loose glue, and it is all starting to come unraveled.
Everything from Roberto Mancini’s tirade on the sideline following Bendtner’s goal before the break to Balotelli arguing with Kolarov about a free kick shows the unstable state of that dressing room. It is the worst possible time for these schisms to show, but also the only time they ever really would and the pressure builds forcing each player to think more about themselves than the team.
Mathematically, City has still all the potential to overcome the odds and win the English Premier League. But the terrible truth is that this super team of superstar talent and the very biggest names in the game is looking more and more of the trophyless team the club has been for the past 50 years.
Follow me on Twitter: @thecriterionman