Having been steamrolled out of the way by a rampant Manchester United last season who wrestled the trophy back out of Manchester City’s hands, the Citizens must have known they had an opportunity to win it back this season with Sir Alex Ferguson gone. Last spring, the City executives acknowledged immediate changes were required at the club.
After Roberto Mancini was swiftly sacked in mid-May and replaced by a highly respected and experienced coach in Manuel Pellegrini, City had found the ideal man. Having lured the Chilean from Malaga, he was entrusted to spend City’s transfer budget productively in their bid to win the league crown back.
Without wasting any time, Pellegrini returned to Spain and managed to bring back with him the likes of Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas, who have both been effective this term. The duo, coupled with City’s already envious and glittering strike force lit up the league with a pantheon of goals – which also saw them eclipse the 100-goals mark this season.
Any team visiting the Etihad were blown out of the water right from the very first game. City were unplayable in front of their own fans. However they were equally unpredictable away from home. They took time to find their feet while on the road, but once they steadied the ship, there was no stopping them. Pellegrini must be given credit for arresting City’s away slide, just after everyone started ruling them out of the title race in the first few months of the season itself.
However, Manchester City surprised many with their late surge up the Premier League table. So much so that the club could be considered unlikely heroes given the short number of days they’ve been atop the league table this season.
Taking a direct head-to-head comparison with games played against City’s top 4 rivals, the results are not all that impressive too. They were beaten by Chelsea, both home and away, and even lost to Liverpool at Anfield. They managed to beat Liverpool and Arsenal at home, while only managing a draw away at the Emirates Stadium. That saw them amass only 7 points out of a possible 18 against their direct rivals. Where they have excelled is effectively and consistently putting teams outside the top 4 to the sword.
City have had to take on the mavericks from Liverpool for the last 2-3 months, who have been playing some eye catching football. Riding on the goals from their famed attack consisting of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard among others, the Reds have given sleepless nights to Pellegrini and his team.
However, the frailties of Liverpool – their defense – which have been masked all season due to the brilliance up front, has hurt them hard over the last fortnight. The home defeat to Chelsea, followed by the capitulation at Crystal Palace has seen them blow away perhaps their best chance of winning the title. Now with City only needing to avoid a defeat at home against West Ham tomorrow to be crowned champions, it is out of Liverpool’s hands who will be left ruing this missed opportunity.
What differentiates potential champions Manchester City and unfortunate also-rans Liverpool is the back four. While Liverpool have shipped in way too many goals, they have managed to score more, which has papered over the cracks and worked well for them all season, until now; but that is not how the best team in the land should be setup, and this has ultimately cost them.
Do I believe that Liverpool deserve to be champions this season? For me, no, despite the fact that they have been such an energetic, eye-catching, entertaining attacking team to watch. They have failed to address pressing issues in the summer or in January, and manager Brendan Rodgers has not made things right when he had the chance.
When it comes to making things right, that’s what City have done brilliantly. Starting from the spring itself when Pellegrini was brought in for Mancini, to dealing with Joe Hart’s poor form, to rectifying their early season blip in away games, to establishing solidity at the back while continuing to bang in the goals up front. That’s what champions do. They change things. They adapt, and then they survive.
This is exactly why I feel that Manchester City, led by the intelligent and brilliant Manuel Pellegrini, deserve to be handed the trophy back tomorrow.
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