IT’S FUNNY HOW football works and how momentous the slightest of mood changes can be.
Just six days ago, Manchester City’s season seemed set to end in misery with the team unable to even rouse themselves for a trip to Arsenal as they meekly surrendered. And not just the match. Also, it seemed at the time, the title race.
Yet, this afternoon, it was like autumn all over again. At various times during their 6-1 victory at Norwich they were back at their brilliant best – particularly with some of the football produced by their Argentine frontline. And, most of all, there appears to be a title race again as City moved within two points of Manchester United. At the very least, Alex Ferguson’s side know they’re not quite going to be able to coast to the title.
And, when you try and break it down, there seem to be two major reasons for this.
The first is the most obvious: the return of Carlos Tevez to the starting line-up as he hit a hat-trick and linked up brilliantly with Sergio Aguero – who himself bagged two. But, while the number-32 is clearly a hugely effective player – and arguably outright world-class – this perhaps isn’t so much an issue of the identity of the forward.
Rather, it seemed to allow City to change up. As has been argued on these pages over the last few weeks, a big issue with the recent dip has been Roberto Mancini’s reluctance – or simple inability – to alter the avenues of attack after many teams had seemed to figure them out.
Against Norwich, though – and against West Brom during the week – they had a different, less containable option. In short, they were able to surprise teams again.
The second reason is perhaps a little deeper: given that this has been this City team’s first title race together, they were also going to feel the pressure in some shape or form. With the defeat last week and the subsequent eight-point gap, that was immediately lifted. So it’s perhaps natural that City were able to express themselves a little more freely again.
With that in mind, Mancini has been clever enough over the last week. By insisting that the title race is still over – as he did again after Adam Johnson’s late goal wrapped up the 6-1 win – he helped foster that mood further. In which case, he must surely realise the effect of pressure on the squad.
In saying that, that does raise a question over how City will respond if Manchester United do slip up against Aston Villa or if they win the derby? Will they be boosted by the late reprieve to then win a first title in 34 years confidently… or will they feel the pressure again?
The middle part of this game did provide a few questions in this regard. Because, as excellently as City started and as emphatic as the final score was, they did look like buckling after Andrew Surman made it 2-1 by capitalising on Joe Hart’s poor punch. Only a fine Pablo Zabaleta block at one point prevented a Norwich equaliser.
At the least, they’ve ensured United are now feeling a bit of pressure.
But that’s also the case for the three bottom sides who were in action today. Of QPR, Blackburn Rovers and Wolves, only the latter picked up a point today and that was in a miserable 0-0 draw at Sunderland that seemed to betray an acceptance of their fate.
Blackburn weren’t much better as they appeared to lose all of their recent verve in a meek 3-0 defeat at resurgent Swansea.
At the least, QPR put up a fight, even if they eventually lost out to Graham Dorrans’s strike for West Brom.
In that, it was a great day for Wigan and Bolton without even playing.