It’s no longer Derby day. Domestic Cups and European battles have ended with no reward. Still, Manchester City have to play every game like a final. More than that, they need to give themselves and their supporters tangible hope for next season.
Here are three things to watch for on Sunday's Premier League match against Middlesbrough:
1. Something Special
City have developed a sense of artistry across the pitch this season, but that has been overshadowed by frequent disappointing results.
They have clear potential to absolutely dominate and destroy teams if they could find the net on just a few of the frequent chances they create.
The return of Gabriel Jesus for more than just 10 minutes will give City supporters hope. The Brazilian has already shown that he can help relieve the Blues’ frustration in front of the net.
Sergio Agüero is no joke. Leroy Sané now owns City’s left flank and weaves well into other areas of the pitch with his teammates. Raheem Sterling still drives into the box with more fierceness than in previous years.
Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Yaya Touré generally steer the ship but could each score a goal if they get the right space and touch.
Then there’s Gabriel Jesus. His presence seems to inject a bit of brightness onto the entire pitch as he sprints and scraps to create opportunities. He has to be eager to end conversations about City’s lack of finishing strength, and the game against Boro is a good opportunity.
3. The Skipper
Vincent Kompany’s return has given the Blues’ defense a more bold approach. His work against Marcus Rashford midweek was outstanding. On multiple occasions his vision and pace helped City diffuse United’s attacks.
If he is rested against Boro, which is a good possibility, the defense’s ability to work with equal confidence will be crucial to winning the match.
The Sky Blues have had all their chances to undo top-shelf rivals. The final games of this season will be against teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table.
Everyone, including City, will be fighting for pride. Individuals will look to prove themselves for various summer deals. Every club will be seeking a late rally to boost confidence.
City have a good chance to enjoy the final matches as long as they maintain their season-long habit of steady improvement.