What a difference a few weeks make. At the start of the years, which was only nine weeks ago, the blues sat in third place in the Premier League, seven points behind Liverpool and would have fallen ten points behind had they lost their home match against the Merseysiders. As it transpired, the blues won and cut the lead to just four points and the comeback was on.
The blues won their next two league matches 3-0 – at home to Wolves and away to Huddersfield – as the challenge to Liverpool continued, but it seemed to fall apart at the end of January as defeat at Newcastle put a huge dent in City’s title ambitions and left Liverpool with an opportunity to go seven clear again. They failed to take it and since then, City clawed back the difference to within one point of the leaders.
The following four weeks saw the blues play eight matches, an average of two per week and included home matches against Arsenal and Chelsea with a trip to Everton sandwiched in between, all in the space of seven days. In the past, these three teams have been the bane of City’s life. Arsenal have a very good record when visiting the blue half of Manchester, while Chelsea has been indifferent. Goodison Park is not a place where City have picked up many points over the years and they were three fixtures that would possibly define City’s title credentials.
Let’s also not forget the trips to Newport in the FA Cup, Schalke in the Champions League and a visit to Wembley for a gruelling League Cup Final win, as well as Premier League games at home to West Ham and a trip to Bournemouth and it’s easy to see why the previously free-scoring blues have only managed two successive 1-0 wins.
Playing so many games in such a short space of time has taken its toll; injuries have besieged the blues with Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones the latest to join the ever growing injury list. But while missing key players, the blues have pressed on and have ground out results. A 1-0 home win against West Ham was followed by an identical scoreline at Bournemouth, which propelled City to the Premier League summit, taking a one point lead with them.
The seven point deficit is now a mere memory and this type of form is reminiscent of how the blues played in the first half of last season, where only Everton and Crystal Palace prevented them from winning every league game up to Christmas. The second half continued in a similar vein, but included two defeats and a few draws thrown in there for the fun of it. This season, three defeats in four matches, including a surprise home defeat to Palace had the doom and gloom merchants out in force before the New Year started, and following defeat at St James’s Park, it seemed City stood no chance of retaining their title. And while City have blown teams away, as was the case with Chelsea, it is the recent games that really show the class of champions.
West Ham were stubborn in defence and the blues had 20 shots at goal with seven on target, while Riyad Mahrez became the scapegoat for City failing to score. The blues eventually broke the deadlock thanks to a Sergio Aguero penalty that would ultimately prove to be the winner. Three days later, it was a similar story at Bournemouth. The blues restricted the home side to zero chances, and toiled away to find a breakthrough, which eventually came thanks to the right foot of Mahrez.
Throughout the history of the Premier League, the eventual champions have often found a way to win against difficult opposition, and that’s exactly what the blues are doing now. Winning all their final league games may seem like a difficult task, but City have done this before; they are finding ways to win when a draw looks likely. And with Liverpool now dropping more points than they have all season, City now have the advantage in the race for the title.
How precious will those two 1-0 wins prove to be?