Cup competitions are promising for City
The start of a new calendar year in British football is one that signifies a turning point in a season; a cut-off where the 'business end' of the season gets under way.
January 6th, 2014
The end of 2013 also signalled a neat point in the current season as we had reached the halfway point; a marker whereby teams can assess performance to date and gear up for a tilt at the title, scramble for European places or face a dreaded relegation battle.
In the case of Manchester City they can look back and consider themselves as relatively satisfied. Early stumbles in the Premier League have largely been smoothed over, and they currently reside just a single point off the top of the table, finding themselves the consensus tip to land the title come mid-May.
As much as the turn of the year highlights the possibilities in the Premier League it also brings into focus the various cup competitions, either with the Capital One Cup reaching the semi-final stage, the knock-out phase of the Champions League or round three of the FA Cup, the latter diminished in the eyes of many (particularly those in a position of influence it seems) but still possessing an air of romance nonetheless.
And as far as City are concerned they remain in the hunt on all fronts, even if they were a touch fortunate to still be in the hat following a 1-1 draw at Blackburn in the FA Cup this past weekend.
Given the media focus that is centred on the Premier League though, you could be forgiven for thinking that City’s season will stand or fall dependent upon whether they finish first or not in the Premier League. Yet this would be to blithely dismiss the potential available to City in the knock-out competitions, which they will attack with great relish.
First up for City is the two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final against West Ham United. With West Ham in disarray and the first leg at home they will be looking to close the tie out early and book a Wembley date where they could face Manchester rivals United.
The FA Cup, where City have reached the final (winning one) in two of the past three competitions also presents possibilities as, should they get past Blackburn in their replay, they will face a comfortable-looking home tie against either Bristol City or Watford. Another deep run beckons and it should not be forgotten that it was the famous old competition that City ended their long old wait for silverware with.
There is also of course the glamour Champions League tie against Barcelona coming up. Having finally progressed beyond the group stages of the competition they were handed what on the face of it appears to be an impossible task. However, Barcelona are not without weaknesses and will not relish taking on City and the attacking threat they possess given the Catalans’ frailties in defence. The pair of games could truly bring a tie for the ages and, should City prevail, it will send a shocking message to the remaining teams in the competition.
Whilst conceding it will be a difficult task to fight on all fronts, Manuel Pellegrini did state that it was his aim to attempt to win all four competitions, and with the squad depth available to him he does possess the wherewithal to rotate and rest where required.
Pellegrini may also be conscious of the ‘five trophies in five years’ requirement that the club’s hierarchy talked about when he was appointed. Many managers jettison one competition in favour of the Premier League and the riches it brings but Pellegrini knows that he can realistically compete on all fronts.
The Premier League essentially remains the yardstick by which managers are judged, and being as well set as they are Pellegrini knows that an excellent opportunity presents itself – yet success in the cup competitions should neither be underestimated nor dismissed. So much is of course open to chance and luck, in terms of the draw and the nature of one-off games, yet a side of City’s resources should be mounting serious challenges.
The season to date then has all been about the Premier League and, given the wide open feel where no one side has stolen a march and only a small number of points separates the top teams yet, a new year brings with it a time to pause, to re-focus and calibrate priorities.
Manchester City will do so knowing that the second-half of the 2013/14 season brings with it the chance to achieve unprecedented success, and in doing so show that life very much exists outside of the Premier League.