Manchester City Impressive Since Christmas

Things didn’t appear to be going too well for Manchester City when they lost 2-1 at home to out-of-form Everton on December 20th. Camp unrest and Roberto Mancini’s future was in doubt. The thoughts of buying the Premier League title looked like a dream back then.

5 Premier League games and 13 points later, everything is under control at Manchester City. Mario Balotelli is sidelined with injury, Roque Santa Cruz is out on loan, Shaun Wright-Phillips is expected to be sold this month and arriving at Manchester City is the highly-rated Edin Dzeko. Roberto Mancini’s future hasn’t been questioned recently and recently he has taken the more positive approach of playing 2 strikers.  As recent as their last Premier League match, which rewarded the home faithful with an exciting 4-3 victory over Wolves. Manchester City go into this weekend’s fixtures level on points with rivals Manchester United atop of the Premier League.

A solid defence could be thanked for a lot of points they’ve picked up in recent games. It started with a 3-1 victory at an unimpressive Newcastle side; Carlos Tevez scored twice. The game was over after he made the score 2-0 after just 5 minutes. That was followed up with 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa that included a Mario Balotelli hat trick – 2 penalties and an open goal tap in. There was not much conviction in the 1-0 home victory versus Blackpool that followed, but 3 points is 3 points and they’ve done that in both games against Ian Holloway’s surprise package in their debut Premier League season.  The 4-5-1 formation was working a treat during a successful run of games.

Sticking 10 men behind the ball at the Emirates saw Manchester City pick up a vital point against fellow title contenders Arsenal in what was a very frustrating game to watch as a spectator. Since then, Manchester City have seemingly forgot how to defend, drawing 2-2 at Leicester City in the FA Cup, before beating them 4-2 on Tuesday in the replay. In between those games with the Championship side came their 4-3 beating of Wolves that saw them temporarily top the league table.

Manchester City travel to Aston Villa in the Premier League this weekend. I expect them to pick up 3 points against a bottom 4 side that should be lifted with the arrival of Darren Bent. Roberto Mancini should be looking to play similar tactics to those that worked versus Wolves, whereby playing Carlos Tevez behind Edin Dzeko. The two-headed attack should see them put goals past a woeful Aston Villa defence on way to simply outscoring their opposition if Darren Bent, Ashley Young and co show up.

It’s around Christmas time and the new year that we expect the real title contenders to show up. Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City have not disappointed. Chelsea have fallen out of the race, but this remains a very competitive chase. Having played 2 games more than the leaders is a disadvantage. Their poor form in late October and throughout November may be their ultimate downfall.

Arsenal certainly have the more preferable run-in of the 3 leaders, but with Manchester City’s large squad that will likely see a lot of squad rotation for their Europa League campaign they should have less worries than United about fatigue and too many big fixtures in a short period of time, down the line.

Carlos Tevez has certainly been Manchester City’s key player this season. Provided Edin Dzeko settles in quickly and the two get along, there’s every reason to assume Manchester City will stay in this title race. However, it will come down to the big games, and it’s only Chelsea out of the top 5 that they have had the better of. They failed to score against Arsenal, picking up 1 points in their two games. They were also head 0-0 at home to Manchester United earlier this season, and the same scoreline at Tottenham on the opening day.

For my preview on this weekend’s Aston Villa-Manchester City fixture, please read my weekly Premier League tips column. Manchester City are currently 13/2 third favourites and in need of some help to win the Premier League.