Manchester City Champions League Hunt: Make or Break Time for Citizens

Owen WatsonCorrespondent IApril 30, 2010

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17:  Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the City of Manchester Stadium on April 17, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The relegation battles have been won and lost, Roy Hodgson has lead Fulham into a historic Europa League final, and barring any dramatic final twists, Chelsea will be crowned Premier League champions.

But who will end up in the final Champions League spot? The race for fourth is still wide open, with Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, and Manchester City vying for the remaining place in the illustrious European competition.

Liverpool also have an outside shot of sneaking into the fray, but they are relying on results falling their way. Realistically, their season ended as they were knocked out of the Europa League last night.

The greatest pressure is on Roberto Mancini.

After taking the helm from Mark Hughes, he has lead his Manchester City side into sixth position in the league with three games remaining. Although off the pace as it stands, he goes into the final three games knowing that his side control their own destiny.

They play Aston Villa tomorrow at Eastlands, and host Spurs four days later. These are massive games, not least for a team whose owner has invested over £200 million into the playing staff.

Champions League football will be a hard fought luxury for their challengers, it is a minimum requirement at Manchester City.

Yet they hardly go into games in the best form. A few weeks ago they battered Burnley before brutalising Birmingham City, winning 6-1 and 5-1 respectively, but they suffered last minute heartbreak against rivals Manchester United, and were poor against Arsenal in a lacklustre 0-0 draw.

In both games the Citizens seemed to be overly cautious, even looking nervous in possession. They only managed two shots against Arsenal, and had seven attempts on goal in a home derby against United.

This isn’t good enough.

In contrast, their opponents tomorrow have the momentum. Martin O’Neil picked up the manager of the month award for April after his side responded to a 7-1 humbling at the hands of Chelsea at the end of March, to collect 13 from a possible 15 points in their next five games.

They are a side brimming with tenacity, quick and direct on the attack, but very difficult to break down.

Nothing less than a win will do against Aston Villa, bearing in mind that Spurs play Bolton Wanderers tomorrow, and Burnley on the last day of the season. You’d back the Lilywhites to take six points against these two sides, which would mean nothing less than three wins in their remaining three fixtures would be enough for City.

The pressure is pronounced for Mancini. There have already been rumblings that his star player, Carlos Tevez, would seek a transfer away from the club should they fail to qualify for the Champions League, and while no player is irreplaceable, the Argentine is arguably the only world class performer in the City side.

It would be difficult to convince players of the highest standard to join the Citizens if their best player is heading for the exit door. Of course money talks, but so does genuine quality. World class talents want to play alongside the best players at the best clubs.

Finishing fourth is absolutely critical, and to do so they’ll need to beat an Aston Villa side with momentum, as well as a Tottenham team that dispatched both Arsenal and Chelsea before coming unstuck against Manchester United.

All this without the fantastic Shay Given, who suffered a shoulder injury against Arsenal; the Citizens have drafted in Marton Fulop from Sunderland as an emergency replacement, but he is far from an adequate deputy.

So, will it be infinity and beyond for Man City? Or will they finish the campaign light-years off the pace? Whatever the outcome, there will be new toys for the manager to play with next season.

Whoever that is, but that's another story.