Manchester City’s Premier League Ambitions Hang In The Balance
When February began, Manchester City were flying high. Coming off a 5-1 thrashing of Tottenham at White Hart Lane, the Blues sat atop the Barclays Premier League table and some pundits were predicting that City was close to running away with the title.
However, things abruptly changed on February 3rd when Manuel Pellegrini’s side was beaten at home by Chelsea 1-0. Despite some positive moments including beating Jose Mourinho’s side in a FA Cup clash and lifting the League Cup at Wembley, it can be argued that the Citizens have still not recovered fully from that defeat.
Including that February 3rd match, the Blues has scored one goal or less in five of the last seven matches in all competitions. This is a far cry from the side that was so mouthwatering going forward for many months that they appeared poised to break many of the English top-flight’s goal scoring records.
Realistically it would have been nearly impossible for the side to continue playing as well as they did in December and January. However, other factors have impacted the play of the team. Fernandinho’s injury and then his absence based on squad selection in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Wigan Athletic have been painfully apparent.
We knew when he was signed that Fernandinho was an adept passer from a deep-lying midfield spot and had the athleticism and pace to get forward and join the attack when needed. But the player has also been the key cover for defensive breakdowns and the player who keeps the shape in the middle of the pitch. Without him in the side, the Blues are rudderless.
Manchester City have also recently endured injuries to Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic and Samir Nasri. Still these injuries have been less critical than Fernandinho’s in overall trajectory of the side. Jesus Navas’ work rate continues to be decent on the flank but his final product is becoming woefully reminiscent of Adam Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips towards the end of their City careers. Alvaro Negredo, whose contribution to link-up play and goal scoring was invaluable during City’s best spells this season, seems to have worn down completely as time has gone on. This is unfortunate, but Negredo had to carry the burden of the club’s attack for months as players he paired with were consistently getting injured. This seems to have taken a toll on the Spaniard’s game and match-fitness.
The lack of playing time for Englishman James Milner is galling to many Blues supporters. No player applies himself more and is as versatile as the Leeds-born player. Yet his chances have become so limited of late that his World Cup spot on Roy Hodgson’s side is now reportedly in jeopardy.
City’s elimination from the FA Cup at the hands of Wigan Athletic, a somewhat local rival for the second consecutive year, was cruel. However, being out of the competition could provide the side with a window to reignite the title race. The Blues sit nine points behind Chelsea with three games in hand. In theory, that could put City joint-top. But as we have seen in many previous Premier League seasons, fixture backlog at the end of the season often means games in hand do not translate automatically to maximum points.
Of greater concern is the Blues recent record in three venues they will visit before the end of the Premier League campaign. City have won just once at Arsenal in a league match since 1975, and that was last season when the Gunners were reduced to ten men inside of the first ten minutes of the match. The Blues recent record at Anfield is equally poor, having last won in 2002 when Nicolas Anelka scored a late brace. Manchester City has won just once in the last eleven trips to Goodison Park, and that clash late in 2008-09 season was largely meaningless. Recent years have seen City turn in its worst performances of the season arguably against Everton away, but with both sides fielding different managers this season, perhaps that trend is stopped.
Manchester City’s title hopes are still very much alive, but the team’s problems will need to be solved and the trickiest fixture list of any Premier League side will have to be negotiated successfully in order to lift the trophy come May.