It’s quite bizarre that Manchester City are still the bookies’ favourites for the Premier League title… surely Liverpool won it last Sunday didn’t they, when they demolished Spurs 4-0?
Oh, I’m sorry the Scousers haven’t actually won it yet… but you’d never believe it from the scenes at Anfield and the media’s sycophantic slobbering all over Brendan Rodgers and the ubiquitous ‘Stevie Gee’.
For Premier League chief Richard Scudamore, it would represent a golden lifeboat floating by if Liverpool were to capture their first ever PL crown, after nearly a quarter-of-a-century of trying.
He had pathetically lamented the decline of David Moyes’ Glory Boys and the consequent ‘damage’ to the Premier League’s brand, but a Liverpool renaissance would go down a treat with an audience of global gloryhunters, complete with fake replica shirts.
Scudamore’s mindset is one that that reeks of the ‘good old days’ before ‘liddle old Citeh’ had the temerity to come crashing in like an SAS commando paying house calls at the Iranian Embassy in 1980 – a full 12 years before the PL was even created.
Sarcasm aside, it could well happen that Liverpool regain their place at the pinnacle of English football. From a Merseyside perspective, it would be a fitting achievement to honour the memory of the 96 lives lost at Hillsborough 25 years ago.
But there’s no room for sentimentality and hopefully, the turf accountants have called it right. With eight games still to play, City can fulfil the Blue Moon dream in their heart and edge one of the most gripping PL finales in many a year.
Nothing could ever surpass the Aguerrrrroooo moment in terms of a last second climax, but with six weekends to go there are still four title contenders.
That’s perhaps a tad generous to Arsenal, but City will always testify how a seemingly hopeless points deficit can be recovered as the number of games to be played dwindle down.
City still control their own destiny, but only just. If Manuel Pellegrini can mastermind eight wins they’re untouchable. An away draw at Liverpool and seven victories will also get the job done.
It’s the biggest cliché in the football dictionary, but City’s success or otherwise, will be determined ‘one game at a time’, starting with a tricky looking Southampton at lunchtime today.
City cannot allow thoughts of next weekend’s shootout at Anfield to obscure their task – anything less than three points would give Liverpool a huge psychological edge, not forgetting a widening points advantage.
It’s perverse that there’s an air of anxiety about City following that splendid 3-0 Old Trafford triumph and the 1-1 draw at The Emirates.
City had been expected to administer the last rites to Arsenal’s dying title challenge, but a weary looking second half performance allowed the Gunners a deserved share of the spoils.
A full week’s rest and recuperation can only be of benefit to City. Nonetheless it’s still not enough time to see Sergio Aguero return to fitness, let alone ‘match fitness’.
Pellegrini has said Sergio will be back for the head-to-head with Liverpool, but it’s asking a lot to expect him to be razor sharp next Sunday, a month after his troublesome hamstring caused his half time retreat at the Nou Camp.
With so much media hype and disinformation about City, it’s surprising to learn that Pellegrini has used the fewest players (23) of any team in the PL.
David Silva has appeared in 21 of those 30 league games, producing some of his finest play in City’s colours. Opposition managers clearly target him for rough treatment and it’s a perpetual concern that his already ‘delicate’ ankles don’t buckle under the punishment.
Alvaro Negredo is also the subject of some apprehension after his well documented shoulder injury, way back on January 21st – the last occasion of The Beast being fed and dining out on a goal.
Adored by the fans, he seems to have lost his natural aggression levels in recent games. A goal would do his confidence the world of good.
Conversely, Stevan Jovetic who has missed most of the season with injury and illness, doesn’t appear to lack self belief, so now would be a great time to stay fit and start repaying a chunk of his £22m transfer fee. It would make sense to start him today.
So much of City’s success stems from their expansive free-scoring style of play, so it’s easily overlooked that they have the best defensive home record in the PL, conceding just nine in 14 games.
A backline of Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis and Kolarov will need to be at their best to keep a lively Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriquez at bay, not forgetting the ever dangerous Rickie Lambert.
Southampton’s highly regarded Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino, recorded his first PL win when City were totally outplayed in a 3-1 defeat at St Mary’s in February 2013.
Pochettino – a veteran centre back – and City hero Zabaleta, a young full back in his debut season in La Liga – were team mates for one season at Espanyol, a year when they won the Copa del Rey. Zaba holds him in very high regard.
Pochettino’s young side, crammed with products of the club’s excellent youth development scheme such as potential City transfer target, left back, Luke Shaw, will come to play today – there won’t be any bus parking.
The Saints’ talent and exuberance will pose a danger to City but, because they will attack, they will themselves, be more vulnerable at the back in what should be an open, high tempo affair.
City have won 15, drawn three and lost just one of their last 19 league games. They have the talent, the experience and the strength in depth to make this the greatest season in the club’s history.
They have made a fair contribution to a Premier League campaign riddled with shock results with defeats at Cardiff, Villa and Sunderland. There is no more margin for error, no more unexpected reversals with City on the receiving end.
City hold the initiative, it’s one they cannot and must not squander. If they do they’ll only have themselves to blame if Liverpool’s premature elation becomes a grim reality next month.
By David Walker