Last Monday, in the fixture soon to be known as the Oil Rag derby – at least by my regular readers, Chelsea hosted Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, with the Premier League leaders 10 points clear of their hosts. A week and two fixtures later, including Manchester City’s first loss all season to a media-persecuted Chelsea side, and the gap between the two sides has only shrunk by one to nine points.
Before the game, Roberto Mancini was quick to display his awareness of his fellow title contenders, in a season where pundits and press continue to link City and the title synonymously, “I think [Chelsea] can win it,” said Mancini, of the side that won the title in 2010, “Last year Chelsea had a big lead [over Manchester United] but in the end United won the title by seven or eight points plus,” stated the Italian, showing an appreciation of Ferguson’s bounce-back-ability. It is a threat that Manchester City are fully aware of, “In my opinion, United are still favourites.
They’ve been there and done it,” said Manchester City right back Micah Richards, “United were favourites at the start of the season and regardless of how we’ve played, they are still firm favourites,” continued the defender, downplaying a derby demolition of United, that saw 6-1 illuminate the Old Trafford scoreboard.
The words may have seemed unambitious to title-aspiring Citizens, especially considering they went on to lose to to Andre Villas-Boas’ men, but in hindsight the consciousness displayed was wise.
Despite losing, ultimately to a Frank Lampard penalty fired home straight down the middle, Manchester City revived their run of form instantaneously, winning a less than straightforward tie against Arsenal at Etihad on Sunday. A David Silva goal was enough to secure all three points in a game which ensured Manchester City would have the status as top for Christmas in their own hands, something they’ve achieved three times previously, but never going on to win the league. Silva’s goal was Man City’s 50th Premier League goal this season, 16 games in, making them the fastest team to reach this tally since Spurs in 1962/63. Their 1-0 victory against the Gunners was their last fixture against teams in the top 7.
In their fixtures against Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle, City have acquired 13 points from an available 18, losing only once – their only loss all season. This is where Manchester City are proving their mettle, with Mancini, against the best. Last season, Manchester City gained just 9 points against the 2009/10 Top Four. This season, Manchester City have already leveled that points tally against the Top Four of 2010/11, excluding themselves.
This potential, and most-importantly on-target, improvement in form against the top teams in the Premier League, is where Manchester City can make up the points that will keep their heads above, who they consider, the favourites still, Manchester United. Last season City proved that they could start rolling out default victories against the lesser teams of the division, picking up 18 points from 18 against the three teams promoted to the Premier League.