Manchester City: falling victim to their own success?
Will the need for excitement remove some of the glory from City’s record-breaking season
The Premier League has long been touted as the most entertaining and unpredictable league, yet City have turned the current title race into a procession. 13 points clear with 13 games remaining, most discussions now surrounding the race for the league title centre on when, rather than if City will claim this season’s crown.
With the elements of surprise and drama being removed from the competition, City’s potential achievements are in danger of being subconsciously downgraded by many fans.
There are still two other domestic competitions and the Champions League to play for, however, if City don’t win some of these – will their season be deemed a failure?
City have already scored 74 goals from their 26 games in the league, 15 more than Liverpool who are second in the scoring charts. This is made even more impressive when you consider City have also hit the woodwork 16 times during this period, another record high in this season’s league campaign.
Therefore, their games themselves are not short of attacking flair or entertainment in the traditional sense, however, fixtures are playing out with a relative predictability which has dulled the spectacle for neutrals to a degree.
All of this has helped to put City on course to win the Premier League quicker, with more points and more goals to their name than any other team in history.
It’s also worth remembering that this is all being achieved in the era of the super-manager. A time when the Premier League has never been so full of talent or financial muscle. Yet, Leicester’s achievement two years ago could still be regarded as a greater achievement while City’s 2012 league win via Sergio Agüero’s last-gasp goal could also be viewed as being more significant in that it was their first title in 44 years.
Peaking too early
After a blistering start which was sustained until the new year, City have broken a string of records and quite rightly received much praise at every turn. The manner of their victories more than anything else has been the driving force not only in their ascension but also in the increased assumptions being made regarding their potential.
However, their draw at Turf Moor last weekend was their third successive failure to win away from home in the league – yet this speed-bump has barely been mentioned, such is the belief in their dominance.
Awards are not handed out for the beginning a team makes to a season and the most crucial stage is now about to unfold before us. While it certainly lays the foundations for success, the one remaining doubt surrounding City’s ability to deliver was also evident at Turf Moor this weekend.
Protection for all
City were missing seven players through injury against Burnley, a fact which prompted Pep Guardiola to only name six substitutes on his bench. Both West Ham (vs Huddersfield) and Crystal Palace (vs West Brom) have also used under-sized squads recently through the same reason and both clubs have also been struggling for form of late.
There is no conspiracy regarding this, injuries are something which happen to most teams through the course of a campaign. While three of these seven players were injured by poor tackles from the opposition, two more were injured through tackles which they instigated.
The game against Burnley saw physio’s called onto the pitch four times in the opening quarter of an hour but each instance was to attend to a stricken Clarets player. This doesn’t mean City were purposefully trying to injure the Burnley players, in the same way that the opposition don’t target injuring City’s star players as their gameplan.
Guardiola is undeniably right to target quality over quantity in terms of player recruitment but in setting up his team to contain 24 members of the senior team, it is a high-risk strategy which he has played.
Chelsea won the league title last season with a central core of players from their squad, however, Guardiola is largely attempting the same with the added challenge of a longer fixture list.
His players will soon report back from training after being permitted time off, however, they will face nine matches in the next five weeks, with a similar schedule likely through to the end of the season if they remain successful.
While most of his injured players are expected to return before the end of this month, the games will become more intensive and players more fatigued as the end nears ever closer.
The People’s champions
Perhaps the greatest hurdle for City is now that of public perception. The natural ebb and tide of popularity will eventually see any dominant force within the game lose some degree of public support. In addition to a desire for competitiveness, there’s a natural inclination for neutrals to cheer for an underdog.
There’s also a growing disconnect between high-profile footballers and the fans who cheer them on. City fans and Guardiola may protest City’s innocence regarding accusations of financial doping, however, this is unlikely to be a view shared by fans of smaller clubs around the country if the divide continues to deepen.
What City can do is focus on delivering their undoubted talents on the pitch. As long as they continue gracing the league with sublime skill and the effective, attacking philosophy which has gotten them this far, they will continue to win hearts.
There will be plenty of high-profile matches in the near future for them to reinforce just why they’re presently so dominant and provide the chance to reap what they’ve already sown.
But as we enter the final stages of this season, City have set themselves a standard which leaves them everything to lose and little to gain but the fulfilment of a promise.