City have renewed hope but must find a return to their clinical form
"Faint hope it may be, but hope nonetheless"
April 13th, 2012
Faint hope it may be, but hope nonetheless. The post mortems were already being prepared and the search for culpability was underway when results this past midweek breathed new life into a Barclays Premier League title race that most assumed to be over following another defeat for Manchester City the previous weekend.
It wasn’t just defeat to Arsenal that was a blow but the manner of it; a City side that should have been fighting for the lives were instead empty of energy, ideas and above all, belief. Contrast this to a United side who reeled off their eleventh win in twelve (the other being a draw) and who had seemingly timed their ascent to perfection.
A 1-0 loss at Wigan though coupled with City’s comfortable 4-0 victory at home to West Brom saw their lead cut to five points and suddenly the derby on April 30th one again looks to have a significance in determining the outcome of the title.
It certainly won’t be an easy task for City to haul in United however. Even before last weekend – when the gap was also five points – no side had reined in a five point deficit at this stage of the season and even with United slipping up City’s odds remain slim: Sports Club Stats puts City’s chances at 18.7%, whilst Euro Club Index virtually write City off giving them just a 1% chance with them predicting United triumph by nine points.
Admittedly West Brom did not provide the sternest of opposition but the 4-0 scoreline was an important one in showing a return to their early season clinical form. Their four goals were scored from just seven shots on goal – telling given their recent woes in front of goal (excellently captured in this post by Soccer by The Numbers) – and of course came with Carlos Tevez making his first start since his return to the squad.
The Argentinian’s return is much to the chagrin of City fans but his presence in the side does provide an option that no other player does. He of course got the start due to Mario Balotelli’s suspension and his deployment as a deep lying striker dovetailed with Sergio Aguero but importantly, took the focus and emphasis off Samir Nasir and David Silva, the latter who has struggled so much of late and the win also saw Silva get on the scoresheet in a much improved display – his first goal or assist since way back in January.
Having found themselves a spark of hope City have to now ensure they go into the match against United with a chance to strike. This means realistically taking maximum points from the two games they have preceding the derby. At face value, games against Norwich and Wolves look to be winnable but both are away from home. No home comforts and a twenty-seven match unbeaten run to fall back on; away from The Etihad Stadium has been their undoing.
Since the turn of the year City have travelled seven times with a return of just seven points and with only three goals being scored during this spell. Contrast this to the heady Autumn days where they put five past Tottenham and six past United. A lack of ability to both create and convert the chances they had done so with such ease previously has stymied their challenge and United have taken advantage.
As well as the forthcoming pair of away games City also travel to Newcastle (before rounding out the season at home to QPR) and for them to have any chance of they have to find a return to their clinical play away from home which has been absent for so long.
The performance against West Brom hinted at this but their true tests lie on the road ahead.
Words by @Danny_pugsley