Happy Monday has arrived courtesy of Blue Sunday and yet another seismic shift in this, the most enthralling ever struggle, for Premier League supremacy.
With less than a handful of games to go it seems any side labelled as title favourites suddenly develops a case of the shakes – the tectonic plates of the PL moving beneath their feet.
Having been written off, vilified and then virtually ignored in recent days, those shallow media types and vulture-like bookies now have the temerity to resurrect Manchester City as the team who, once again have the mantle of ‘…it’s their title to lose’.
From Moyes to Giggs, Rodgers to Mourinho, ‘liddle old Citeh’ could barely warrant the odd paragraph last week.
Certain insidious elements of the press were infinitely more interested in going giddy over Ryan’s privates – well, his inner most private thoughts – to be more precise, and the brave new dawn of the ‘Giggs Era’.
If it wasn’t the amateur dramatics of the The Theatre of Screams and the ghastly Glazers doing the dirty on Wee Davey, it was the right royal Rodgering going on over at Anfield, with plans well advanced for the crowning of King Brendan and Stevie Geeeeee’s investiture as Prince of Scouseland.
Nobody much cared for a team that cost a zillion quid and who had only the Capital One Cup to show for it. Manchester City had ‘blown it…’ and had ‘…only themselves to blame’ according to the detractors.
Any premature exhilaration at the Etihad would be most unwise but, having thought they’d shot their bolt, City are suddenly back in control of their destiny.
Chelsea’s Reserves & Youth Combination XI did what City couldn’t, or what Manuel Pellegrini wouldn’t, by parking a rather large bus at Anfield and releasing the handbrake twice!
With more twists than an Alton Tower’s white knuckle rollercoaster ride, Chelsea turned the title race upside down and inside out, handing an unlikely advantage to City.
Love him or loathe him, Jose Mourinho, deserves to be acknowledged as a tactical genius, in a week that saw him shut-out Spain’s champions-elect, and then repeat it with the English equivalents.
In a clash of football philosophies, Mourinho did what it took to get the job done and emerged with a 2-0 win over Rodgers’ previously rampant Reds.
Pellegrini stuck to his principles and sought to fight fire with fire at Anfield and came a cropper, albeit with an abundance of mitigating circumstances.
Mourinho can, at times be a repugnant reptile and an outrageous hypocrite. Be that as it may, he is undoubtedly a winner and it’s clear to see why the Chelsea fans love their leader.
Pellegrini is the polar opposite, genteel, polite, a statesman, much respected by those that know him and work under his tutelage.
But, when the odds are stacked high against you, nobody instigates a siege mentality and inspires blind, unswerving loyalty quite like the monster that is Mourinho.
On this isolated occasion it served the purposes of the suave, sophisticate from Santiago to have the snide, sneering snake from Setubal set loose on a common prey.
City’s subsequent victory over Crystal Palace – by the same scoreline – means Pellegrini is 270 minutes away from confounding his legion of critics, by winning his first league title outside of South America.
His team drew inspiration out of Africa, as Yaya Toure, returning from injury, turned in a truly world class showing with an assist and a goal of equal distinction.
The term ‘world class’ is all too freely bandied around, but the Ivorian meets every credible criteria. When Yaya wants to play he is quite simply unstoppable, with a potent blend of power and precision, strength and subtlety.
His lofted pass from 30 yards out, was headed home by a fired-up Edin Dzeko in the fourth minute and City never looked back.
Billed as a match where Tony Pulis would settle old scores with his City nemesis, the Palace manager was unable to take the fight to City’s men in black as the visitors totally dominated the game.
As time wore on, the only real surprise was the margin of victory. In the end it was limited to just Dzeko’s strike and the culmination of a Yaya initiated and executed, 70-yard run and passing movement with Edin and Samir Nasri.
The marauding Ivorian took the ball from within City’s half and played two one-twos, before sweeping home his 23rd goal of the season just before half-time.
City were by far the better side and Palace, striving for a sixth consecutive league win, posed a minimal threat to Joe Hart, who kept his first clean sheet in half-a-dozen attempts.
Jason Puncheon forced a fine Hart save early in the second half – one of only two strikes on target – as City dominated.
It was an accomplished, rather than spectacular display from an assertive City, clearly buoyed by news of Liverpool’s demise.
The team’s hunger for victory was in synch with the 2,500 travelling fans’ raw passion and the prospect of a second PL title in three years.
Dzeko was at his best with a highly energised display, just as he had been in the 3-0 Manchester derby win. When he cranks up the gears the Bosnian is a real asset, reflected by his 23 goals in all competitions.
Man of the Match Yaya – laughingly described by TV pundit Didi Hamann as a liability – banked 66 precious playing minutes before being withdrawn.
His presence and level of performance at Goodison Park this Saturday, will be pivotal in determining City’s PL fate.
In the absence of David Silva and Jesus Navas, City were undoubtedly missing guile and speed, but they more than compensated with solidity and composure.
Javi Garcia seems to finally have come of age in his preferred holding midfielder role, whereas Martin Demichelis seems to be outperforming Vincent Kompany in recent matches!
The euphoria of the unlikely windfall from the red half of Merseyside is tempered by the prospect of having to overcome the blue side of Liverpool, and registering an away win over Everton.
So often in recent times – ironically under the man held up to ridicule at Old Trafford, David Moyes – City have come unstuck against the Toffees.
Ask any City fan who is the club’s biggest bogey team and, nine times out of 10, they cough up Everton as the answer.
It’s imperative that City don’t choke again in the menacing Merseyside atmosphere, especially reserved for visiting Mancunian teams, be they red or sky blue.
In a season where the unexpected has become the norm, Everton is undoubtedly the biggest remaining hurdle for City to overcome.
Chelsea and Liverpool don’t play until the Sunday and Monday, so it gives Pellegrini an opportunity to heap pressure on Mourinho and Rodgers.
With a massively superior goal difference to Chelsea (+15) and a healthy (+8) over Liverpool, City have to bank the points first and then see if they need to rely on the goals ‘for’ and ‘against’ columns to get them over the line…as they did in May 2012.
It was a volatile Italian vintage in the shape of Roberto Mancini that saw the job through two years ago. It remains to be seen if a smooth Chilean can delight the sky blue palate in a similar fashion.
Please don’t bottle it Pellegrini!
By David Walker