Manchester City title hopes falling apart at the worst possible time
On the fringes of the Premier League title race for the whole of the season, but never quite striking out and putting their marker down, the past week has been a brutal one for Manchester City at the precise point they felt ready to make their move.
April 17th, 2014
Laid in wait behind both Liverpool and Chelsea, City could point to their games in hand as the cards they still had to play with; win those and the title was in their hands. In the space of 72 hours though, their hopes have fallen apart.
Just one point has been garnered from an emotional trip to Anfield and the first of their crucial games in hand; a home game against Sunderland in which three points was expected rather than anticipated.
After defeat to Liverpool – the manner of which would undoubtedly have deflated City – they had the perfect start against Sunderland when Fernandinho put them ahead before most of the stadium had settled in their seats. From there though, instead of capitalising on their early advantage against a side destined for relegation they were flat and lethargic, undoubtedly missing the talismanic threat and presence of David Silva and Yaya Toure.
Throughout the game they struggled to create, favouring the wide areas to little success, which encouraged Sunderland. They sensed their opportunity, and although they failed to test Hart in the first half they – or rather Connor Wickham – struck their blow with two goals less than ten minutes apart to all but end City’s title hopes. A late goal from Samir Nasri notwithstanding, City find themselves adrift by six points with just five games to play (with Liverpool and Chelsea having four each to play).
The ‘points on the board or games in hand’ argument has been raging as long as the sands of time, and the extra games – and the ‘guarantee’ of points they bring – have been what City hung onto in recent weeks as first the dropped points against Arsenal, then Liverpool and now Sunderland have rendered their grip less tight as the games have passed.
They now sit six points adrift, less a gap than an expanding chasm, finding themselves not only reliant on the sides above dropping points, but in desperate need of finding the spark that has seemingly disappeared from their game.
What the games in hand has brought is a congestion to their fixture list, which now is in excess of 50 games in a long old season, and despite stating his side were physically okay, Manuel Pellegrini admitted post-game that they were mentally tired and struggling to get the Liverpool game out of their minds.
This is a side that has hit a wall following the high of the 3-0 derby win at Old Trafford. Did the highs of that win, coupled with the frantic and frenetic pace of the game, drain City to an extent where their level of play has flat-lined since? The four games since beating United so convincingly has seen City take just five points, and since the opening thirty minutes against Arsenal flatter to deceive.
A sense of anxiety gave way to frustration in the final stages of the game against Sunderland as there was a collective realisation that despite Nasri’s equaliser, his later gilt-edged chance was the opportunity for City to snatch an unlikely (and undeserved) victory; their title hopes disappearing in the process.
If City do not pull off a comeback even more remarkable than the one in which they snatched the title back in 2012 there will be a huge sense of disappointment throughout the club, frustration at what would be a huge opportunity that has passed them by with the thoughts of a quadruple long turned to dust.
Frustration too that in as much as Liverpool or Chelsea (should either prevail) will fully deserve their win, the position that City have been in for virtually the whole season has meant that the chance was theirs to take, and when it counted most it increasingly looks as though they have failed to grasp it – an outcome that will surely not be without its consequences.