Manchester City’s inconsistent form has been holding them back this season. Aside from winning their first five Premier League matches, momentum of any kind has evaded them. They need something special—a moment to kickstart their season before it slips into something altogether more disappointing.
Their win at Watford earlier this month felt like a turning point. A goal down and the game slipping away from City, their football was disjointed and lacking inspiration. But two late goals—both of which were exhilarating to watch—turned the game in the final minutes.
In glorious circumstances, a run of six Premier League away games without a win was ended. The players celebrated far more exuberantly than they would normally. Their fans were delirious. It felt like the catalyst they had been waiting for.
But it was a false dawn. Their games since have seen the pattern of their season continue. City haven’t won back-to-back league games for over three months and, despite a distinct lack of quality at the top end of the table, they are yet to take control of the title race.
They have just 44 points from 23 games, their lowest total at this stage of the season for five years. Given their summer outlay and the obvious strength in depth they possess, it’s not good enough.
Which is why Wednesday evening’s game at home to Everton in the semi-final of the League Cup feels so crucial. It could provide the turning point in their season.
City are 2-1 down from the first leg and have failed to beat Everton in the two games between the two sides so far this month. A place in the final at Wembley is under severe threat.
But turning the situation round could be just the fillip they need. The League Cup has been a platform for further success in recent seasons. Both City in 2014 and Chelsea in 2015 went on to win the Premier League after securing a major trophy early in the campaign. It seems to remove pressure and breed confidence—a midseason boost that gives a side added impetus.
Manuel Pellegrini clearly values the competition—his team selections, which have been consistently strong, have proved that. One big performance and they will be in a major final again.
Their home record has been excellent this season, too. They’ve won nine and drawn one of their 12 league games at the Etihad Stadium. Beating Everton is perfectly possible and would see their fans, who have become frustrated in recent weeks, again begin to believe their side can have a successful season.
But there are problems in the City side that need sorting. They’re too easy to play against. Going forward they remain razor sharp and capable of carving a defence open in the space of a few seconds, particularly now Sergio Aguero is back to his best, but at the back they’re porous and, at times, all over the place.
Nicolas Otamendi is prone to moments of craziness that put his side under unnecessary pressure, and Martin Demichelis—a superb footballer and reader of the game—is 35 and lacking speed on the turn. With Gael Clichy having missed much of the season and looking short of games, it’s the back four that is leaving Joe Hart exposed.
They need stabilising. At the moment, the slightest pressure from the opposition seems almost guaranteed to unsettle them.
There appears to be a lack of belief in the City side, for whatever reason. A win on Wednesday and a place in the League Cup final is exactly what they need.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.