The sudden returns to form of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and David Silva on Wednesday means that there is no excuse for Roberto Mancini not to throw everything at this last chance
By George Ankers
While Manchester United fans would have been checking that the date wasn’t April 1, Manchester City must have been wondering if they were back in October.
Their 4-0 win over West Brom on Wednesday seemed a cathartic shrugging-off of the past three months in which the goals had dried up, the dazzling performances had lost their lustre, and a stranglehold over the Premier League title had somehow been thrown away.
As Wigan opened the door with a shock win over their rivals, City picked the perfect moment to remind supporters – and, crucially, themselves – of the quality which had seen them bulldoze all comers, even United, in the first half of the campaign.
|CITY'S REVITALISED POWER TRIO
|PLAYER RATING | DAVID SILVA
|Back in the fold after missing the defeat at Arsenal with a knee injury, the Spaniard was close to his best. Always able to wriggle a yard of space and constantly produced incisive passes. Made no mistake after the break, scoring City's fourth goal with a delightful dinked finish.|
|PLAYER RATING | CARLOS TEVEZ
|Handed his first start since September and rewarded his manager with an effervescent display and a well-deserved goal. Added energy and drive to City attacks and played some wonderful passes.|
|PLAYER RATING | SERGIO AGUERO
|A wonderful performance from the striker to prove he remains City's No.1 Argentine as he scored twice and provided two assists. Put City ahead in the sixth minute with a piledriver from 25 yards and added the second after the break with a classy finish. Still had time to set up goals for Tevez and Silva.|
Reservations about the principle of his return aside, Tevez is undeniably a huge asset to Roberto Mancini and his goalscoring comeback was one of the most positive aspects of the victory from a purely footballing perspective.
So suddenly Mancini can once again feel able to wield the Premier League’s most incisive arsenal. He has five games to play and five points to catch up to. His tactics should not be complicated – go for it.
The Italian may have struck a desperately poor motivational note on Wednesday by insisting that the title race remains “finished” but it should not change the instructions that he gives to his troops. Whether it proves to be a lost cause is irrelevant – the only way for City to capitalise on any United slip-up is to take every last point between now and the end of the season.
There is no sense in being cautious. Inhibition blighted their 1-0 defeat by Arsenal – Mario Balotelli’s exception to that rule placing it in clear contrast – and there can be no room for a repeat.
Worry should not come into the equation. However unlikely a five-point swing is between first and second place, a 10-point one between second and third is doubly so. For all their good form, Arsenal simply will not catch City up.
Even if they did, there would be no tangible difference – second and third both get automatic entry into next year’s Champions League group stages, and the slight change in prize money is hardly going to rock the boat in the sea of cash that is the Etihad Stadium.
The fans, at least, will demand that City go into their climactic derby on April 30 with something to play for, so three points at Carrow Road on Saturday is a must.
Mancini should be confident that such a result can be achieved, and in style. Norwich City visited the Etihad on December 3 and were hammered 5-1 for their troubles, despite putting up a fight.
|MAN CITY'S TITLE RUN-IN
||Norwich City (A)
||Manchester United (H)
Away form has largely been the issue for the men in blue as their challenge dipped. You have to go back 12 matches on the road to find an occasion in which City have scored more than one league goal at somebody else’s ground, a 3-2 win over QPR on November 5, to be precise.
The journey to Norwich is set up with a renewed momentum, a desperate need to score a hatful of goals, and a lack of any serious ramifications if they get somehow picked off on the counter in trying. It demands a gung-ho approach, which it will surely receive.
After a victory like that over West Brom, continuity will be sought and Aguero and Tevez must start again. The former is simply City’s best striker and likeliest scoring outlet while the latter provides practically the definition of impetus from the front with his bustling, all-action style. Even if he must be taken off in the second half due to fitness concerns, it is vital that Tevez be allowed to set the tone for a barrage on the Norwich back line.
The path is clear. Manchester City have been served up a lifeline at the last realistic moment.
Whether Mancini believes the miracle possible or not, they would be forgiven if they try to take it and fall short, but there can be no excuses if they do not throw everything into this one last chance.
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