City on the march in March

Posted by Simon Curtis

After a January that blitzed various goal-scoring records and delivered a six, two fives and two fours, Manchester City limp away from February licking their wounds and not needing more than three paltry fingers to count the goals scored during the month's five fixtures.

- Mooney: All about points for City
- Report: Pellegrini: No regrets over Mangala

From a 6-0 Capital One Cup rout of West Ham, a 5-1 thrashing of Spurs and a 5-0 thumping of Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, City's last five matches look like this.

City 0 Chelsea 1
Norwich 0 City 0
City 2 Chelsea 0
City 0 Barcelona 2
City 1 Stoke 0

For those of us thoroughly spoiled by the goal festival, it is not just that the well has dried up so quickly and so utterly in such a short space of time. The startling tippy tappy football of the winter months was also replaced this weekend by a gale of misplaced passes, a variety of clearly out-of-form players and a string of injuries that are still bothering team selection. Added to that, we saw Edin Dzeko wipe his leg at the ball not two feet out from the goal and succeed only in looking like a giraffe on roller skates. Even City's goal, bundled in by a falling Yaya Toure, was neither Picasso nor Cezanne, but more a potato print from the fourth form at school.

With the first cup final of the season on the near horizon, let us take a second or two to analyse where we stand, attempt to predict what might happen next and, therefore, recalibrate the actual number of Brian Horton elephant pills that we might have to take to calm our nerves over the coming weeks.

Let us first emphasise that the Stoke game, tedious and blotchy as it was, served up three points towards the title fight. Those at the Etihad and at home moaning and groaning would do well to remember how long this season is, how many games a team fighting on four fronts must play and how much pressure this places on players to perform week in week out. While passes clearly went askew and the near telepathic understanding that we have come to expect between certain players seemed missing, are we to assume this is a gathering bank of black cloud in the shape of a descent into poor form, or is it a blip from players exhausted by their recent high pressure meetings with Chelsea and Barcelona?

Looking at the five February fixtures, it is certainly a mixed bag. Overrun and out-thought by Chelsea in the League, City turned the tables on their London rivals in the Cup. Lesson learned, nerves calmed. The two other league games, against Norwich and this weekend's match with Stoke, both featured limp performances from key personnel, but tellingly still delivered a win and a draw. The Champions League fixture with Barcelona served up a strong effort in a match where fate tipped the odds against City when the Blues least needed their task made more onerous. No reason, therefore, to think just yet that this downturn in returns is a slippery slope out of the running for all competitions. While the Blues face an Everest-like challenge in Spain next March, they are one decent performance away from lifting the first silverware of the season, face a winnable tie in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and remain right on the shoulders of the pace setters in the Premier League. Hardly a moment to get the prayer mats out.

Three of the seven games scheduled for March will tell us what this season is about to bring us:

March 2nd Sunderland at Wembley: A first trophy on the sideboard for Manuel Pellegrini? A weight lifted off the collective shoulders? A springboard to a confident finish to the season?

Tues 25th March Manchester United away: A win to clinch the double over our nearest and dearest? Confirmation of the two clubs’ seasons going in strictly opposite directions? Three vital points in the league run-in. A massive boost before the game the following weekend, which is....

Sat 29th March Arsenal away: The second of two critical away games in five days and clearly the more difficult. Leave this place undefeated and all will sit up and take notice. Move into April with the warm spring sun shining in your face and watch the shoulders of your rivals begin to slump. Complete these fixtures feeling good about yourself and look at the opposite effect it has on the denizens of the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Anfield.

Add to these three the Wigan FA Cup tie and the return leg in Barcelona and you have a fascinating month appearing in front of us all. With Sergio Aguero back and those that have been injured getting stronger, there is no reason to believe that these games cannot deliver what all Blues fans sincerely hope they will.

Let us see then if, by the end of March, we are not casting a glance back at February's fixtures and scolding ourselves for ever having the slightest doubt.


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