With Christmas Day just eight sleeps away, the magical anticipation of a visit from Santa Claus knows no boundaries in the mind of a child.
It kind of comes close to how Manchester City fans are feeling, after landing the dream tie of Barcelona in the Champions League knockout stages in February and March.
There’s substantially more sleeping to be done before Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Xavi, Sanchez and Co come calling, but the early indications are the Catalan giants fear they could be in for a nightmare at the Etihad.
The La Liga leaders only have to look at how Arsenal, the Premier League front runners were annihilated 6-3, to know that they have every reason to be afraid…very afraid.
Some may scoff at the perceived arrogance of ‘likkle old Citeh’ after their eighth straight PL home win, with 35 goals scored and just five conceded, but Spanish newspaper headlines screamed ‘El City, NO’ once the pairing was announced in the Round of 16.
City have been in a winter wonderland of recent days having beaten the mighty Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, before gunning down the Gooners in sublime fashion.
The power play and attacking flair of Manuel Pellegrini’s marauders seems to have finally earned City recognition and respect throughout Europe. Such is the insatiable appetite for goals and the irresistible fashion in which they go about their business, City are not only winners, they are super sassy, sexily delicious winners.
For now at least, Manuel’s manifesto of why score four when you can score five, six or seven, means the fabulous, fast flowing football is the topic of conversation.
Her Majesty’s Press can no longer fall back on the tired hackneyed jibes surrounding City’s spending under Sheikh Mansour’s reign.
No longer does the public right of way at City’s Carrington training ground play host to the intrusive long range lenses of cameramen, virtually guaranteed a back page pay day, courtesy of a Mad Mario spat, a volcanic like Mancini eruption or a Tevez tantrum.
The bile and sour risings of the often vile and venomous media, have been neutralised, by what the poisonous pen-pushers must view as an irritatingly alkaline approach.
Despairing of City’s rapidly emerging interpretation of the beautiful game, the worst they can throw at the calm and composed Pellegrini is that his press conferences are boring, plodding affairs – the polar opposite of the on field pyrotechnics that threaten to propel City to the top of the Premier League before the year’s end.
If they are to surmount the summit they will do so without the one-man Argentine armoury of the adored Aguero. With 19 goals in 20 games this season, superlatives seem inadequate for Sergio, as he ignited the merciless massacre of Wenger’s Boys on Saturday.
His loss, to a calf injury, in the coming weeks will undoubtedly be a blow to City, but it presents a wonderful opportunity to a now fully fit Stevan Jovetic, to step up and make his mark.
The man from Montenegro could prove a more than able replacement to combine with the carnivorous Alvaro Negredo, who sliced Arsenal apart and netted his 13th goal in a brilliant start to his City career.
Pellegrini is proving to be a very astute player in the transfer market with Negredo looking a snip at a reported £16.4 million – just over a quarter of the fee that City would have had to pay – had they landed the talented, but prohibitively expensive, Edinson Cavani, who joined PSG from Napoli for a reputed £63m.
Lightning fast Jesus Navas gets better and better with each game and, having replaced the injured Aguero, the Spanish flyweight winger whizzed in a cross that countryman David Silva flashed past Szczseny, for City’s fourth against the shell-shocked Gunners.
Goals either side of Silva’s strike came from the man who was Pellegrini’s top transfer target of the summer, the understated and comparatively unknown, Fernandinho.
At a reported fee of £30 million, the Brazilian wasn’t cheap and neither was he setting the PL on fire in City’s opening matches.
Now, 21 games into his City career, the box-to-box midfielder has adjusted to the frenetic pace of the PL and is an absolute joy to behold. Composed, committed and accomplished, the only element that had been absent was goals.
This was rectified, first via a cultured curving 25-yard strike on the 50-minute mark, and then supplemented by close range in-off-the-post affair in the final stages. A Man-of-the-Match performance which must surely merit a call-up to the Brazilian World Cup squad.
City’s ‘super sixth’ was slotted home by ad-hoc penalty taker Yaya Toure, whose 10th goal of the campaign equalled his entire haul from 2012/13.
Half-a-dozen goals against the Premier League’s top defence and 47 in 16 games, is ample proof that Pellegrini’s expansive, entertaining brand of play is not only eye-catching, it also overwhelms the vast majority of opponents.
Less laudable is the three goals conceded to an Arsenal team that played their part in a game that ranks with the very best in the history of the PL.
Theo Walcott’s brace – the second a well worked and exquisitely executed finish – along with Per Mertesacker’s injury time header, added to the spectacle which ably demonstrated why the PL is such a global attraction, all verve and vitality but delivered by two highly technically skilled teams.
The Gunners could, with some justification, say they were the victims of some dubious refereeing decisions – two offside calls and what would have been a harsh handball penalty award against the superb Zabaleta – but nonetheless City were still good value for the three points.
Vincent Kompany was a colossus at the back, so much so that veteran Martin Demichelis had his best game in City’s colours. Gael Clichy replaced the man who had captained the Miracle in Munich, Aleksander Kolarov, and his speed was vital in combating Arsenal’s swift counter attacks.
Ex-Gunner Samir Nasri, now in the form of his life, had no problem ignoring the travelling support, who had no ammunition with which to undermine him on the day.
James Milner – the standout player in the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night – continued where he’d left off when coming on as a 71st minute replacement for the tiring Silva, winning the 96th minute penalty – the second spot kick he’d earned in a week against table toppers from both Germany and England.
City were imperious and if they can reproduce even 70% of their home form away from the Etihad, the title is theirs to lose.
However, best that City don’t start counting any chickens, otherwise they could end up looking like turkeys at the lesser lights of Leicester and Fulham this week. If there’s any stuffing to be done let’s hope ‘Paxo’ Pellegrini is giving opponents the bird!
By David Walker