Manchester City vs. West Brom: 6 Things We Learned

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIApril 22, 2014

Manchester City vs. West Brom: 6 Things We Learned

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    Are those men smiling or are they merely relieved?
    Are those men smiling or are they merely relieved?Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Manchester City took to the pitch against West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad knowing that anything short of a win would mean the virtual end of their Premier League title chase.

    They might as well get used to that feeling. City have four matches left to play and are not guaranteed to win the league even if they win all four.

    Liverpool were 1/6 to win the league before City kicked off against West Brom. After City's win, has Liverpool to win the league at what odds?


    So a lot changed for City, who ended a two-match skid without a league win. And nothing changed for City, who still trail both Liverpool and Chelsea in the league table. Just by fewer points now.

    Here are six takeaways from Manchester City's 3-1 win against West Brom.

City Doubled Down on Their Ability to Strike Quickly

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    Zabaleta's header set an early tone for City.
    Zabaleta's header set an early tone for City.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Against Sunderland at the Etihad, Manchester City scored in the contest's second minute. With Sunderland firmly planted at the league table's foot, a rout seemed imminent.

    Then City sleepwalked through the next 80-plus minutes and needed a late Samir Nasri equalizer to avoid an embarrassing defeat to the Black Cats.

    Perhaps City learned a lesson there, as the Sky Blues jumped West Brom from the opening touch and built a 2-0 lead inside of 10 minutes.

    Both Pablo Zabaleta's second-minute header and then Sergio Aguero's blast from outside the area in the 10th minute had West Brom 'keeper Ben Foster cleanly and clearly beaten.

    Two are almost always better than one, and they certainly were on this occasion.

City's Ability to Switch off Is Both Awesome and Sad at Once

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    Dorrans made no mistake, and City had bungled themselves into a battle.
    Dorrans made no mistake, and City had bungled themselves into a battle.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    City had a two-goal lead and a free kick in a sort of dangerous area about 30 yards from West Brom's goal in the 15th minute.

    The match commentators for NBC Sports Network were idly chatting about who would take the kick since Yaya Toure was not fit to play and Aleksandar Kolarov was not chosen to start for City. There was no urgency in their voices; City would play it into the box and see what happened was the prediction.

    Less than a minute later the ball was in City's goal.

    Everything went wrong for City when David Silva and Fernandinho seemed to botch or abort some training ground trick play. By the time Fernandinho whipped the ball to Pablo Zabaleta on the right flank and Zabaleta found the pass a little too zippy to control, the Baggies were off and the break was on.

    Graham Dorrans' finish for West Brom was class, as he controlled a difficult return pass in the area and kissed the inside of Hart's near post with a hard, well-taken shot.

    But Dorrans never should have had such a clean chance to score. All City had to do was lob that free kick into the area and let, oh, someone like Sergio Aguero or Edin Dzeko or Samir Nasri try to make a play.

    City went into a funk for about 20 minutes after Dorrans' goal, and West Brom had more than one good chance to draw level.

    Heaven only knows how the match might have ended had West Brom scored a second goal before City's eventual third.

Unmarked Goals Are Rare in the Premier League but Always Welcome

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    Demichelis will never score a simpler goal.
    Demichelis will never score a simpler goal.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Manchester City were still listing and unsteady when Samir Nasri lined up a corner kick in the 36th minute.

    It was at this point that West Bromwich Albion played defended as you never see in the Premier League, primarily because it can never work.

    The Baggies had Youssuf Mulumbu clinging to the near post and 'keeper Ben Foster close to the center of his line. Those two were in pretty good defensive positions, except for one thing.

    Every other West Brom player in the penalty area appeared to be playing some form of offside trap. They weren't, of course, not from a corner kick. But that is sort of the point.

    The only reason Martin Demichelis was able to poke City's third goal into the far side of Foster's net was because he was totally unmarked. It looked a lot like an offside trap gone wrong.

    For a club that has lately had to bleed through their collective eyes for goals, the ease with which their third and final goal came had to be a pleasant surprise.

City Found the Proper Second Half Rhythm with a Lead—a Smooth One

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    Dzeko's missed chances aside, City did not sweat too much in the second half against West Brom.
    Dzeko's missed chances aside, City did not sweat too much in the second half against West Brom.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Up 3-1 to begin the second half, Manchester City pulled a Milton Berle on West Brom the rest of the way.

    City would have liked to further fluff their goal difference, but if West Brom were happy enough to kick the ball around the park for some of the half, that would serve City manager Manuel Pellegrini well enough.

    Did West Brom have chances? Sure they did. Morgan Amalfitano and Victor Anichebe had City keeper Joe Hart's full attention on a couple of occasions.

    But City never gave up that second goal that would have emboldened West Brom and terrified City's spectators.

    The feeling around the Etihad at the end was not excitement or joy. It was muted relief.

    That is what this time of year does to supporters. At least City did not scare their fans throughout the second half on this day.

David Silva's Energy Bar Might Finally Be Red for Good

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    City have literally run Silva into the ground this season.
    City have literally run Silva into the ground this season.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Football video games continue to replicate the real spectacle with alarming accuracy. Chief among the improvements in such games is the way they deplete players' energy and depict injuries as they occur in real life.

    And as with real life, sometimes injury comes suddenly and sometimes you can tell what is likely to happen shortly before it all goes wrong.

    In the video games, players often have an energy bar under them indicating how fit they are during play. Green indicates full energy, yellow less and red close to none.

    If NBC Sports Network's telecast showed energy bars for the 22 players on the pitch in this match, David Silva's would have been red or perhaps maroon when he finally went down in the 70th minute.

    "He played the last game with pain, which is why it was impossible for him to play against Sunderland," City boss Manuel Pellegrini said of Silva, according to Paul Wilson of the Guardian. "It is the same ankle, it started with a kick some weeks ago and it has not gone away."

    That Silva was playing at all was probably a risk for Pellegrini, albeit one he had to take. Silva has been hobbling to various degrees for a while and could certainly have used another week off.

    But Pellegrini saw enough of what City looked like without Silva against Sunderland to know he probably could not chance sitting the Spaniard if he could go.

    Until Silva's ankle is scanned, there is no way to know if his season is over. If it is, City's thin Premier League title hopes might follow him to the training room never to emerge.

Will City Be Watching When Chelsea Visit Liverpool?

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    City will be interested to see whether Suarez and Liverpool can keep the bit in their teeth against Chelsea.
    City will be interested to see whether Suarez and Liverpool can keep the bit in their teeth against Chelsea.Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Manchester City are next off to Selhurst Park to play Tony Pulis' suddenly prolific and dangerous Crystal Palace side. It will take all of City's attention and energy to earn three more points at Palace's expense.

    And yet.

    City's kickoff against Palace will most likely come shortly after Chelsea and Liverpool's battle at Anfield concludes.

    City's destiny in the Premier League does not ride completely on that match, but a Chelsea win would give City's chase an enormous boost. Conversely, a win from the Reds will have the Premier League trophy's engraver heating up his implement.

    Players attest to being professionals and if asked any City player would tell you that the side's effort against Crystal Palace will be the same no matter what happens at Anfield.

    Don't you believe it.

    If Liverpool win, City will have to fight the urge to consider the race over against a Crystal Palace side that surely will take no pity on them.