Singing and dancing in the rain, the Manchester City faithful soaked up the unbridled joy of an Etihad Stadium awash with goals, as Liverpool’s title bid all but went down the plughole.
Whereas the puddled Scousers had been prematurely celebrating amid the April showers, it’s the City fans feeling rosy as May flowers with sky blue blooms and the sweet scent of Premier League success.
Manuel Pellegrini’s crop are proving to be hardy perennials, poised to harvest the three points that would see them proclaimed as outright champions come late Sunday afternoon.
City’s familiar war cry of ‘We’ll Fight ‘Till the End’ seems finally to have replaced the age old, self deprecating mantra of ‘Typical City’.
Nonetheless, City fans of numerous generations know better than to get beyond themselves.
This would explain the complete lack of any Mancunian chants of ‘We’re gonna win the League’, whereas Liverpool, steeped in history and fuelled by the emotions of Hillsborough, are already rueing their own over-optimism and smug, self-satisfaction.
Of course that could yet change if City falter against West Ham and the Reds beat Newcastle. Such a doomsday scenario would render City’s two point and +13 goal advantage redundant…but that isn’t happening anytime soon on the evidence of this four goal demolition of Villa’s Lambert Lambs.
Yaya Toure proved once again that he would be in any World XI and Edin Dzeko showed that for all his perceived shortcomings, he is an invaluable part of City’s squad.
For over an hour the apprehension levels continued to rise as City battered a resilient Villa defence, but to no effect.
Pellegrini has often been accused of not having the proverbial Plan B, which on the evidence of some very astute substitutions over the season is a load of Plan B (OLLOCKS)!
Once again, Pellegrini had the insight to make the requisite changes. James Milner had laboured in the rain but was largely ineffectual, cluttering up the right flank, denying the overlapping Pablo Zabaleta the space he thrives.
When the England utility man gave way for the ever lively Stevan Jovetic, Pellegrini changed the dynamics of his attack, setting up a 1-2-3 Balkan barrage that would sink Villa and Liverpool in unison.
Within four minutes of the substitution, Edin Dzeko flushed away any anxieties with his 25th goal of the season. The Etihad erupted.
Pellegrini deployed Jovetic in the centre of attack causing Villa to defend in a more compact fashion, immediately creating areas for Zabaleta to exploit on his forays down the wing.
David Silva pushed the ball wide, Zaba fed the ball in hard and low, Dzeko stole in in front of his marker and swept the ball past Guzan from close range.
The relief was palpable – apart from 1,000 strong Villa contingent – who probably wondered what the hell they were doing spending time and money to witness Lambert’s idea of adventurous play – it’s rumoured he had an After Eight Mint at 7.55pm.
Within minutes an almost identical link-up between Merlin and Zaba produced the same return. Nasri’s shot squirmed away from Villa’s US keeper, allowing Dzeko to side-foot home from a yard out.
The big Bosnian has had his fair – sometimes, unfair – share of criticism during his 3½ years at City, but surely it’s time to stop. Yes, he misses chances that Aguero would undoubtedly bury, but he never shirks an opportunity – he’ll try, try and try again and City fans always love a trier.
Averaging more than a goal every two PL games, any other PL team would accommodate him in their squads, not forgetting the likes of Borussia Dortmund or Inter Milan.
His joy of scoring is self evident, as is his response to his new manager’s style of man management.
Up until recently Dzeko could have departed City with everybody’s gratitude. Were it not for him the ‘Agueerrrrro’ moment would never have been – but a £15m-£18m selling fee would have made sense.
Edin is too profligate in terms of chances to goals ratios, sometimes displays the deftness of an anvil and his demeanour and body language can often leave a lot to be desired…but he has habitually scored vital goals.
He should stay at City, along with his Balkan compatriot Jovetic, a player so far restricted to just two PL starts and 11 appearances as sub.
Jovetic’s sixth goal of a season blighted by injury, served to show what a great asset he can be next season. His low curling drive nudged City to the brink of their ‘ton of fun’ with the team’s 99th PL goal – puitting them level with the much lauded Liverpool attack.
It was an ‘ice cream’ moment – 99 goals, plenty of flakes and no red balloons. But the best was yet to come in the 94th minute.
With literally the last touch of the match, the juiced up juggernaut that is Yaya Toure, morphed into ‘Roy of the Rovers’ with a sublime 70 yard upfield drive, leaving half-a-dozen Villa defenders trailing in his wake.
Powering away like a Pickfords pantechnicon, the Ivorian colossus removed 99% of any doubts that City will be crowned champions on Sunday, smashing home the 100th league.
It was time to add jelly to the ice cream!
The goal befitted both the landmark achievement and the player himself. Yaya became only the second midfield player (along with Chelsea’s Frank Lampard) to ever hit 20 PL goals in one season.
For decades I have resolutely maintained that Colin Bell is the finest City player I have ever seen. By his actions and contributions, his goals and his influence, I am of the opinion that the imperious Yaya has now eclipsed Colin The King…he’s that good.
City have now won 11 times from Villa’s last 12 PL visits to the Etihad, so it wasn’t really a surprise. Nonetheless, Pellegrini will be happy with the patience and composure displayed when Villa’s resolute resistance had threatened yet another twist in the title saga.
Next up on Sunday is the ‘Darn Sarf School of Charabanc Shifting’ and its patron ‘Big Fat Sam the Bus Driver Man’.
The Hammers will have two items on their agenda, namely trying to preserve the £10.8m PL prize money by holding onto 12th place and, secondly, trying to gain a modicum of revenge after a combined 12-1 thrashing in the three games contested with City this season.
A 0-0 draw would get City over the line but it’s not Pellegrini’s way. There’s no need to be gung ho, there’s a title to be won, but City will be best served by going with instinct and putting Chelsea’s PL goals record of 103 under threat.
A win gives City the title on points, not goal difference…not that were being pernickety. If they get the job done they’ll have sat on top of the PL for a total of just 15 of the 268 days of the 2013/14 season, with five of those being the final, and all-important ones up to May 11th.
Not quite a case of he who laughs last clearly didn’t get the joke, more one of he who laughs last laughs loudest.
Even the serious thinking man from Santiago would be able to afford himself and the fans a beaming smile if it all goes to plan…
By David Walker
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