Can anyone recall a time when a team lying uncomfortably in 8th position – six points adrift of the leaders after 11 games – has been earmarked as Premier League title favourites?
The answer is ‘no’ – but that’s where Manchester City find themselves in a topsy turvy season, like no other in recent memory.
Has a team ever lost four of their first 11 fixtures in the top flight of English football and gone on to be crowned champions? The answer is ‘yes’ and the team in question was none other than yes, you’ve guessed it…Manchester City.
That little football nugget was imparted to me earlier this week by Mike Summerbee, a vital component of that glorious 1968 Mercer-Allison title-winning team, and now present day club ambassador.
It’s something to hold onto as Manuel Pellegrini attempts to get his highly fancied, but infuriatingly inconsistent, City side back on track against a similarly unsteady Spurs side, who sit just one place and a point above the bookies’ hot tip.
City are the last team in England’s four-tiers of the professional game with a 100% home record, with five wins, 20 goals scored and just two conceded.
It’s just as a well. If it were left to their away form, City would be in a relegation struggle.
Conversely, Spurs have garnered just as many points on their travels – 10 – as they have done at White Hart Lane, but a team, previously renowned and revered for a free-flowing, easy on the eye style of play, have netted a paltry nine PL goals.
Perversely, the North Londoners have only conceded one goal on the road and six all season, making them the meanest backline in the league. Under Pellegrini, City have let in double that amount but have outscored Spurs threefold and more.
It’s almost as if the two clubs have swapped football philosophies. Under Roberto Mancini, City had the best defence in the PL for the past three seasons. Under Harry Redknapp and more latterly Andre Villas Boas, Tottenham seemed content with the ‘we’ll score one more than you’ approach.
Something will have to give at the Etihad on Sunday lunchtime and it may well be that returning heroes or villains – depending on your perspective – could be key influencing factors.
Pellegrini’s Joe Hart dilemma rages on – fuelled by a twisted media who really don’t want to release the meat hooks from City’s soft fleshy underbelly.
The City manager’s routine Friday pre-match press conference apparently – according to some of Her Majesty’s Press – featured the cool, calm and collected Chilean ‘…losing it…’ when questions persisted about Hart’s status for Sunday’s crunch encounter.
After the fourth time of asking of the same tedious enquiry about Joe’s midweek England performance, Manuel intimated the need to move on as he had yet to decide between Hart and Pantilimon.
Yet another example of media exaggeration. In reality the episode had all the fire and venom of an infamous Daily Telegraph headline of yesteryear which read – ironically – ‘Small earthquake in Chile no one hurt’.
It also begged the same question – why bother reporting it in the first place. It was a ‘nothing’ story, but the motives are clear – try to portray City as a club in turmoil with unrest among the players… ad nauseam.
On the other side of the equation there is the spectre of the man just about everybody loves to hate – Emmanuel Adebayor.
Manu was adored by City fans upon his arrival from Arsenal as he slotted in quickly to Mark Hughes’ side, scoring goals and putting in maximum effort, showing himself to being a striker of the highest order.
And then the effort stopped. Languid, lazy or just a plain liability, the Togan’s performances dipped to unacceptable levels.
Yes, he suffered a horrible ordeal as he witnessed carnage as he and his international team mates were targeted by crazed gunmen en-route to the African Cup of Nations, but even then he seemed to ‘milk’ the situation with a prolonged absence.
What has since emerged is a pattern of underperforming for both Real Madrid & Spurs after an initial whirlwind impact. By and large Manu has wasted his God given talent opting for a ‘show me the money approach.’ Sadly his admirers throughout his career are probably limited to Mrs Adebayor and other family members.
If he does get his first PL start to try and kick start Spurs ‘misfiring’ attack, City will hope it won’t be yet another example of a former Sky Blue coming back to haunt them. For Christ’s sake even Lee ‘Bad Buy’ Bradbury managed it in the days of ‘Typical City’.
However, after the less than illuminating 15 watt display at Sunderland’s Stadium of Dim, many supporters are wondering if that horrible historic tag is once again poised to dangle like a millstone around City’s collective neck?
Similarly Spurs were stung by a shock reversal to a team from the North East, going down 1-0 to Newcastle at home before the international break, despite an incredible 31 shots on goal.
Spurs will be shorn of Danish playmaker Christian Erikson injured on international duty, whereas City are more tellingly lacking long term absentee Vincent Kompany and the magical David Silva. Stevan Jovetic is still not ready to enter the fray, but Fernandinho and Matija Nastasic are set to return.
With the PL so keenly contested this season, a defeat would not be entirely ruinous to either side’s title or top four aspirations. The onus is on City to continue winning at home if they are to preserve their anointed status in the eyes of the bookmakers.
Progress in the Champions League is already assured, so Pellegrini needs to get his priorities right and start a charge up to top spot for the New Year. Despite a hideous haul of four away defeats in just six games, he is right when he says City could, and should be at least six points better off, if not 10.
Nobody wins the PL in December but, you can sure as hell make sure you won’t win it if you’re 10 or 11 points behind the team in top spot.
City’s much maligned – and constantly changing – defence must strive for consistency and, notwithstanding Kompany’s absence, stop haemorrhaging sloppy goals. Just as to why the skipper’s ‘thigh’ injury is taking so long to repair, is a source of concern and puzzlement, nearly two months on.
With tough away games at WBA and the season’s surprise package, Southampton, in the space of just three days, early next month, City have to start winning on their travels. They need to be in touching distance of current leaders Arsenal , when the Gooners come to the Etihad in mid-December.
Five away games in three different competitions in the space of just 17 days in December, will tell us if any trust placed in City’s sitting MP is justified.
By David Walker
Thank you to everybody who voted for READ BUT NEVER RED in the Football Blogging Awards Best #Male category. RBNR were runners-up to the well established @arsenalfanstv – not quite Pride In Battle, but neither humiliation in defeat. Thanks once again.