Manchester City scored another four goals, this time at home to Southampton, in a win which moves them within a point of leaders Liverpool and takes their goal tally for the season to 138 in all competitions.
As has been the case in so many matches this season, David Silva and Samir Nasri were instrumental in the win, with all eyes now on their top-of-the-table match with Liverpool at Anfield next weekend.
They didn’t have it all their own way, though. After going ahead early on through a Yaya Toure penalty—his 22nd goal of an incredible season for him personally—City were pegged back when Southampton won a penalty of their own, with Jack Cork upended by Pablo Zabaleta. Rickie Lambert scored from the resulting spot-kick, and City were on the back foot.
A few nervy moments followed for the home side, as the crowd began to get anxious, but a huge slice of luck saw City reassert their lead. Edin Dzeko's flick found Silva, who was clearly in offside position, but the assistant referee's flag remained down as the Spaniard crossed for Nasri to tap home from close range.
City suddenly found their stride, and right on half-time, Aleksandar Kolarov delivered a pinpoint cross from wide that Dzeko headed home. After being lacklustre and insipid for the majority of the half, City were themselves 3-1 up at the break and in the ascendancy.
The second half saw City in complete control without ever really getting out of second gear.
Substitute Stevan Jovetic scored his second league goal of an injury-hit campaign to wrap up the points and send City into the crucial match with Liverpool next weekend in fine form. They've lost just once in the league in their last 20 matches, including 16 wins.
Silva and Nasri were, once again, at their imperious best in tandem, floating effortlessly around the pitch, linking play with their wonderful passing and movement. Manuel Pellegrini wants his side to dominate possession and play an attacking style, and Silva and Nasri are central to that approach.
But the City manager is refusing to become embroiled in looking at what their title rivals are doing as the season approaches its climax.
Pellegrini told the official Manchester City website:
The four teams have the same pressure until the end of the season, they all want to win the title. Everyone knows that they must win whether they know our result or not.
We just depend on ourselves until the end of the season. It’s important to continue playing the way we did in the second half because I thought it was a great performance.
We are enjoying a very good second round of fixtures where the results are much better than the first half.
We’ve had four wins and one draw in our last five games. Maybe we had low performances in the month of February and at the start of March, but I think that now the team has come back to its best performances.
Liverpool, who remain one point in front of City having played a game more, travel to West Ham on Sunday, and Chelsea, now a point behind Pellegrini's men in third, entertain Stoke later on Saturday. Both sides know a win is vital with City still in the position of having the title in their hands.
The match between Liverpool and City at Anfield is now shaping to be the most important of the season.
A win for City would see them assume even greater control, but with Liverpool's home form so impressive and with an array of attacking talent all in exceptional form, they will feel confident of getting the all-important victory.
Sergio Aguero looks set to be back for that game after being put through his paces on the pitch before Saturday's match; however, Pellegrini will be keen to make sure his involvement doesn't risk him for any of the other remaining matches after doing without his star striker for significant chunks of the season already.
Manuel Pellegrini confirms Fernandinho wasn't taken off at half-time because of an injury. Just a precaution because he'd been booked.— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonMEN) April 5, 2014
His quality is undoubted—26 goals in 25 games this season is testament his value to this City side—and his return will be a timely boost to the rest of the squad for a match which will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this ever-intriguing title race.
Having beaten Southampton—on paper their toughest home test left this season—City have taken the opportunity to apply pressure on their rivals. Any slip-ups from them will see City's position as favourites strengthen before next weekend's crucial game at Anfield.
The momentum you feel is with City.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.
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