Champion in waiting: Manchester City inching towards Premier League title

Manuel Pellegrini's men are now firm favorites to win a second league title in three seasons after they returned to the summit following a tense 3-2 win over Everton
Winning ugly has had its reputation sullied by baiters of Jose Mourinho in recent weeks, but in order to be champions, it’s almost always a necessity. Manchester United has long been the master of it and at Goodison Park on Saturday Manchester City left flowing football at home to grind out a hugely significant, potentially title-defining victory.

Liverpool has been branded as the neutral’s Premier League choice in recent weeks for the manner in which Brendan Rodgers’ side has dismantled teams, but let’s not forget that City was tearing teams apart long before Liverpool.

Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and countless others were humbled when Manuel Pellegrini’s side was at its free-flowing, formidable best, but playing away at Everton, a place where the Citizens have won just once in the league since 1992, didn’t require that kind of performance.

Sometimes being asked to throw bodies in front of shots, defend in your own penalty area and generally endure agony is a necessary evil to get the job done, and City most definitely endured that. And emerged unscathed.

When it has really mattered, City has been able to win. It has been able to see out matches that have impeded its rivals. It can win with grace and with grit. For the most part, its 3-2 victory over Everton was achieved with the latter, but that’s what title run-ins are all about. And that’s why, should they see out their remaining two games, the Citizens will be worthy champions.

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are well aware that opinions on football change with such regularity that it’s difficult to keep up. Manuel Pellegrini will also remember the praise lavished upon his side as Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva tore teams to shreds. The Chilean has had to endure criticism since but it’s to the credit of this team that they have remained level-headed and consistent (Sunderland aside) in one of the most unconventional title run-ins in Premier League history.

Everton, for all the conspiracies about easing off to allow City victory given the unthinkable alternative of a Liverpool title win, gave Roberto Martinez everything it had. Ross Barkley, fantastic once again, proved to be a relentless nuisance, and it’s somewhat disappointing that his effortless, unerring curling shot into Joe Hart’s top corner in the opening 10 minutes ultimately meant nothing.

Barkley and his team had City concerned, but Roberto Martinez’s decision to set up with 3-5-2 from the outset, a back three of John Stones, Phil Jagielka (making his first appearance since February) and Antonin Alcaraz allowed Pellegrini’s attacking unit a generous amount of space in key areas.

Sergio Aguero greedily exploited this to bring City level, and then it was left to Edin Dzeko to give his team something to defend.

The Bosnian carries a disinterested demeanor at times, but his clinical finishing is as important at this stage of the season as a pretty Samir Nasri pass or a powerful Yaya Toure run. His winning goal was a tap-in from six yards. It was a victory that characterizes Premier League winners–in-waiting.

City has two home fixtures remaining, against Aston Villa and West Ham. Pellegrini couldn’t have wished for a more straightforward way to edge over the finishing line. And when the dust settles and the season is taken in context, it’ll be afternoons such as today, where a dreadful record and an enterprising, dangerous home side stood against them, that City’s players and fans will look to. Days the title could be won and lost. And the victory was theirs.