The English Premier League title race is virtually over, but Manchester City showed they had no plans to cruise towards a mediocre finish with a dominant 4-0 victory over Newcastle.
A 2-0 defeat to Everton before last weekend’s international break allowed Manchester United to move 15 points clear from second-place City, and now that the two rivals were both victorious on Saturday, there are just 24 available points.
It is extremely unlikely that City will come anywhere near United in the table, but that does not mean that there is nothing left to play for.
Firstly, the team’s primary concern will be to lock up second place. The victory over Newcastle pushed Roberto Mancini’s side five points clear of third-place Tottenham with a game in hand.
In addition, both of the Citizens’ next two matches may be against their arch rival. If United beats Chelsea in an FA Cup quarterfinal replay on Monday, the team will move on to a showdown with City in the semifinals.
If this dream semifinal matchup becomes reality, the stakes will be remarkably high. Millwall and Wigan are facing off for the second spot in the final, meaning the winner in the potential tie between the two Manchester clubs will likely be lifting a trophy.
Also, City’s next Premiership match is against United. While the Red Devils will surely be earning another league title, losing consecutive matches to their crosstown foe so late in the year will surely leave a sour taste in Sir Alex Ferguson’s mouth over the summer.
This may not fill up space in City’s trophy cabinet, but it will be a source of pride and motivation heading into next season. It also may affect the actions of Sheikh Mansour.
The club owner has unlimited wealth to spend on new players and coaches, and like Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, if he feels he does not have a squad that can compete with Europe and England’s best, he will be making changes.
While City’s results this season are likely poor enough already to bring about adjustments over the summer, there are a handful of players who will be able to earn their keep in the home stretch.
Mancini has already had to deal with rumors about his tenure coming to an end, and he also will be doing everything he can to ensure his team finishes strong.
City played with urgency and motivation against Newcastle. Neither Carlos Tevez, David Silva nor Vincent Kompany have had their finest seasons, but all three scored goals.
This team is supremely talented, and it showed several signs that it will be motivated from now until the end of its campaign. United should be wary.