thumbnail Hello,

Manuel Pellegrini's free-scoring and highly entertaining side have spent minimal time at the top of the table but championship success would be just reward for their efforts

ANALYSIS
By Jamie Dunn

Manchester City are on the verge of a second Premier League title, having eventually swaggered their way to the top of the table.

There have been setbacks - some early-season teething problems cast doubts over their credentials, while a recent defeat to Liverpool almost spelt the end for their title assault - but Manuel Pellegrini's side need a win at home to West Ham to guarantee that they will lift the league trophy again, while a point is almost certain to suffice.

And having wowed football fans with some ruthless and equally entertaining displays - scoring five, six or even seven goals in a game - Manchester City are the champions-elect that this incredible season deserves.

FREE-SCORING STRIKE FORCE

Around £85 million (€104m) has gone into building City's strikeforce of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo in recent years and that investment continues to pay dividends at the Etihad Stadium.

MAN CITY LATEST
6/4 Manchester City are 6/4 with Bet365 to score over 3.5 goals against West Ham
Despite enduring a season fragmented by groin, hamstring and calf injuries, Aguero has scored 17 times in 19 league starts, averaging a goal every 85.24 minutes from a total of 1,449 played. The Argentina international has started just four games since January 29 – remarkably, it is a campaign of what might have been for the 25-year-old.

But in Aguero's absence, Dzeko has proven to be somewhat of a talisman for City. Seemingly on his way out of Manchester under Roberto Mancini and facing a battle to prove his worth following the arrival of Negredo this summer, the Bosnian has excelled when charged with the responsibility of leading the line.

Dzeko has struck 16 times in 30 league games this season – only 22 of those appearances were starts. The striker averages a goal every 120.1 minutes but, crucially, scored a double to haul his side past a resilient Everton at Goodison Park before finding the net twice against a stubborn Aston Villa side to open the floodgates for a 4-0 victory.

Such an impressive contribution from Dzeko has meant that Negredo has featured less than he might have expected following a summer transfer from Sevilla but three of his nine goals have opened the scoring in victories, while one clinched a victory over Liverpool at the Etihad in December and another put them back in front in an eventual 6-3 drubbing of Arsenal.

GOALS AND ASSISTS FROM MIDFIELD

While Aguero and Dzeko in particular have impressed in front of goal, neither have hit the heights of team-mate Yaya Toure. At times, the Ivorian has looked as though he is playing a different game to those who challenge him.

Toure has scored an incredible 20 goals from midfield in the Premier League this season, a feat matched only by Frank Lampard during the 2009-10 campaign. The former Barcelona man has scored goals from all distances and angles, become predatory from free kicks and, once he builds up a head of steam, he is almost impossible to stop.

But there is a subtlety to the midfielder's game as well. His assist for Aguero in the win over Everton – one of eight this season – was deft, precise and recognised by the 30-year-old long before anybody else.

Elsewhere, of all other Premier League midfielders, only Liverpool's Steven Gerrard – a dead-ball specialist – has contributed more assists (11) than David Silva's nine, with the Spain international also hitting the back of the net seven times.

And while not an automatic first team choice for Pellegrini, summer signing Jesus Navas has provided four goals and seven assists in 30 appearances (18 starts).

Aleksandar Kolarov, a left-back by trade, has notched seven assists having been afforded plenty of freedom this season – more than any other defender. Such contributions have undoubtedly been aided by the signing of Fernandinho, the tough-tackling, energetic cog at the centre of the City midfield.

For all the impressive efforts of the likes of Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, it is hard to imagine where Liverpool might be without Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS

City looked anything but champions-elect at times during the opening months of the season, when defensive errors cost them defeats to Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Chelsea. Approaching the end of October, with almost a quarter of the season played, Pellegrini's side sat seventh in the table.

Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic and Martin Demichelis have all been held accountable for the club's defensive shortcomings at various points in the campaign, while accusations of laziness and lethargy were levelled at Yaya Toure.

But with just one game left to play, only Chelsea – the apparent purveyors of 'anti-football' – have conceded less goals than City's 37, owing largely to a run which began following their elimination from the Champions League to Barcelona in March.

A 2-0 victory over Hull City on March 15 has prompted a run in which the league leaders have kept five clean sheets in 10 games, conceding 10 goals in the process, with half of them coming in away games against Liverpool and Everton.

Goal difference could yet be the deciding factor in the title race and, while reaching triple figures in the scored column stands any club in good stead, averaging just one conceded every game will do no harm either.

Related

From the web