City and Chelsea fire the first shots in the title race

It would need more than a liberal dose of hyperbole to make the suggestion that Frank Lampard’s headline-grabbing late equaliser at home to Chelsea this past Sunday kept Manchester City’s Premier League title hopes alive, but by rescuing a point they ensured that the gap to Chelsea remained at five, rather than eight points.

City and Chelsea fire the first shots in the title race

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September 24th, 2014

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True, the 2014/15 Premier League season may be in its infancy; just five games are in the books of this campaign but make no mistake, to trail your nearest (and many have argued only) rivals for the title would present a stiff challenge over the course of the season.

This is particularly so given the improvements to a Chelsea side that appears to have addressed the weakness from a season ago. Jose Mourinho too appears to have the bit between his teeth in terms of winning the league in his second spell in charge; given the way he was attempting to undermine Manuel Pellegrini following the game (the continued references to ‘Pellegrino’ a clear example) he sees City as the team most likely to challenge his own.

But what of City? Five games in and City have dropped seven points, including five from their three games at The Etihad Stadium – a place where they have dominated in recent times – to leave themselves peering upwards at sides above them.

We all know that the season after City last won the title was one that went far from according to plan. A summer of rankling between Roberto Mancini and those in charge of transfer strategy manifested itself onto the squad, and saw City slump over the second half of the season to be left trailing behind Manchester United.

What this showed was how difficult it is to retain the Premier League title, even given the fact that there may be just two teams genuinely involved in the title race. Since Manchester United won three titles in succession in the mid-2000s no side has defended the title over the past five seasons, see-sawing between the Manchester sides with Chelsea also adding a title.

This season, of course, is the second for Pellegrini in charge at City, having won the title in his first year, and there are signs that he is more than aware of the difficulty he faces to repeat that success. Already having alluded to the difficulty of the task facing his side Pellegrini was in tetchy mood following Sunday’s tussle with Chelsea, targeting Mourinho and Chelsea for their approach to the game, noting afterwards:

“We played during 90 minutes against a small team trying to defend, trying to keep ten players in front of their goal. It was very similar to the Stoke team, with a big team playing against a small team with very good players, trying to defend. They had nine players in front of their box. I said last week that it will be very difficult for us to defend the title because every team will play the way Chelsea did. I repeat that I think they had no intention to win the game. They came just to draw and they scored on the counterattack against 10 players.”

Strong stuff, which led to Mourinho’s own riposte and brings up the possibility of season long tête-à-tête between the pair, who of course have previous in this area.

Although City have dropped points this season (also drawing at Arsenal the previous week) and are on a winless streak of four games in all competitions there are mitigating circumstances. There is no doubt that City have been handed a tough start (also playing Liverpool in the opening month) whereas Chelsea have had a more favourable schedule.

For City now though they have a period where they have a run of games: Hull, Aston Villa, Tottenham, West Ham, Manchester United, QPR and Swansea; seven fixtures that will see City have played almost a third of the season. During this time Chelsea will also face a tough stretch, so City will be hoping by the end of this period they will have made up some of the ground lost in the opening month.

If the embryonic 2014/15 season is anything to judge by it will not be a given though, and City will continue to come up against opponents causing them the same problems they have faced to date. This will be a test of not only Pellegrini’s ability and skills as a manager, but of his nerve in dealing with the pressures and demands that winning the title brings – the necessity to go out and do it all over again.

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