Thursday, April 22, 2004
Game of the Week
Leicester City v Manchester City
Every day this week the Manchester City players have gathered at their Carrington training ground to prepare themselves both physically and mentally for what could prove to be the biggest game of their season.
Convinced by senior squad members that it was the right thing to do, the players even forfeited their day off in order to pore over videos of their recent failings in an effort to eradicate the mistakes that have left them deep in a relegation battle.
Extra work has very much been the order of the week, and rightly so.
The players know that defeat against fellow strugglers Leicester City on Saturday, coupled with a Leeds victory over Portsmouth 24 hours later, could see them fall into the relegation places.
With time running out it is starting to look ominous for City.
If things go against them and they do slip into the drop zone, manager Kevin Keegan will have just three games left to try and reclaim his mantle as the master motivator.
After the crunch game with Leicester Keegan's side face a journey to Middlesbrough sandwiched in between visits from Newcastle United and Everton to their Eastlands home, where they have managed just three victories all season.
There is an argument to suggest that City should be capable of scoring maximum points in each of those games with the exception of Champions League-chasing Newcastle, but given their current form they can take nothing for granted.
In the six games since they defeated Manchester United 4-1 at the start of March, City have yet to record a win - four draws and two defeats is all they have to show for their efforts.
The lowest point came last Saturday when Southampton embarrassed a lacklustre City 3-1 at Eastlands.
Reports of 'dressing room unrest' in the immediate aftermath of the game added insult to injury for the fans and left question marks over Keegan's position at the club, particularly as his greatest skill has traditionally been the fostering of team spirit.
Keegan's recent absence from the day-to-day running of the team was put down to a back problem, but he could have been forgiven for simply not fancying the task in hand.
Keegan is an honest man and in the past his honesty has led him to walk away from jobs, most notably the England hot-seat.
At City he has assembled a team which is not lacking in individual talent, but that just doesn't seem to have any coherence, if he doesn't get the sack at the end of the season perhaps we can expect Keegan to hold his hands up and admit defeat again.
While things on the pitch are bad for City, off it matters are worse.
The club might have a fantastic new stadium, albeit one they can't win in, but with debts of £60million the future looks bleak, in fact relegation could be the death knell.
If City do fail to win their survival fight things could get very serious, very quickly.
With only Nicolas Anelka and Shaun Wright-Phillips likely to attract bids of any significant value the club would be forced to lose players for knock-down fees in order to cut their wage bill, thereby decimating the squad and undermining any hopes of an instant return.
For Micky Adams' Leicester a demoralised Manchester City could be the perfect opposition for his doggedly determined team.
Leicester have a considerable advantage over City going into the game.
The Foxes knew from the first day of the season that they would be locked in a scrap for survival.
Week in and week out, despite disappointing results Leicester have managed summon the strength to dust themselves off and prepare for the next challenge. City arguably had grander aspirations and that they now find themselves in the mire is likely to have left many of their stars in a state of shock.
Not once have Adams' side thrown in the towel, even last week after conceding an away goal to Blackburn, the side lifted itself and battled to the last only to lose the game 1-0.
Where Leicester have a never-say-die approach there has to be a worry that Manchester City are unable, or in some cases perhaps unwilling, to stomach a relegation dogfight.
The question must be after a week-long post-mortem of their failings this season will City will be unable to summon the character they so desperately need?
Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.