Manchester City hitting their stride at right time

Posted by David Mooney



It's nothing unusual to wake up with a horrible hangover on New Year's Day. However, waking up at 4 a.m. with a horrible hangover in order to make it to a bus leaving for Swansea in time for a 12.45 p.m. kickoff on Jan. 1 will be a brand-new experience for Manchester City fans.

Never mind, though, because there was also torrential rain to add some freshness to the cold, January morning! Happy New Year, everyone!

The trip home, however, will have been much better received. A good hangover cure (so I'm told, I'm a nondrinker) is a decent away performance and a 3-2 win to go top of the table, albeit temporarily.

- Pellegrini pleased with City

The haul of four wins from four games over the Christmas holiday is City's first 100 percent record in the festive period since 2009 (encompassing Mark Hughes' final match and Roberto Mancini's first three), so the job that Manuel Pellegrini has done to turn the Blues around should not be underestimated, especially when one might suggest that the fixture list has been the toughest at this time of year for many a season.

The victory over Swansea also marked the first back-to-back away wins for the Blues in about 12 months -- when the club beat Norwich at Carrow Road in December 2012 and followed that up with a win at Emirates Stadium in January 2013.

Pellegrini didn't change his philosophy, setting up his team in his traditional 4-4-2 system. Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko both started up front -- despite being the only two fit senior strikers at the club, and despite the Chilean being unable to name another striker on the bench, with reports emerging of John Guidetti about to leave on loan. David Silva missed through suspension, though Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri were on hand to provide the creativity.

There must also be an honourable mention for Aleksandar Kolarov, who is staking a very good claim for the left-back position on a more first-choice basis. Under his new manager, his defensive ability has seemingly shone through, without a loss to his attacking nature.

City's problem this season -- especially away from home -- has been the inability to kill off ties when having taken the lead. It might be especially harsh to criticise them for that after winning in Wales, but there were the same old trials and tribulations late in the first half. Having opened the scoring, the Blues missed several good chances to double their lead, before taking their foot off the gas.

That happened at Fulham, causing the Blues to throw away a two-goal lead and to have to work hard again to earn the win. It also occurred at Southampton and West Brom in the two away games before that, where City led in each and slipped to a draw in one, while turning a 3-0 lead into a close 3-2 win in the other. Then there were the much-maligned losses at Aston Villa and Cardiff, where the club had been in front also.

The crucial thing -- and an aspect that must now be worrying fans and managers from the other clubs at the top of the Premier League -- is that City are now winning games without playing well throughout the 90 minutes. Swansea may well feel aggrieved to have taken nothing, but visiting City scored at vital times and held on stoutly where necessary.

That victory extends Pellegrini's run to 12 games unbeaten in all competitions -- 11 wins and one draw.

The recent form of some of City's key players has been important in that run; Samir Nasri is in the middle of his most impressive season in a blue shirt, while Fernandinho and Yaya Toure are playing as if they've been a partnership for five years instead of five months. Vincent Kompany is back to full fitness and is beginning to get a run of games under his belt, while Matija Nastasic is recovering from his injury problems.

Even Dzeko, who it would be fair to say has had his critics, seemed like a brand-new player. Though he did show signs of his old self -- putting in a very Schrodinger's Footballer performance, having simultaneously a good and bad game. He was winning flick-ons, putting himself about, chasing loose balls. Meanwhile, his touch was so heavy on occasions that it negated shooting opportunities.

Having shot themselves in the foot by allowing Swansea City’s equaliser -- which probably should have been ruled out for offside -- the visitors showed their new professional side on the road. They were clinical -- Toure and Kolarov both netting at crucial times, before the Blues remained solid to the end...

Well, nearly. The copybook was blotted again by allowing Wilfried Bony too much space to shoot and score.

Nevertheless, 2014 has begun with a win for Manchester City -- and with the club's recent form, there must be an ominous feeling for those around the top of the Premier League. It's fight or flight time, and the Blues look ready to knuckle down and battle.

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