By Greg Stobart
Roberto Mancini has spoken of his belief that it will take a whopping 90 points to win the Premier League this season and, given his notorious attention to detail, the Italian has probably plotted every point his Manchester City side will win between now and May.
A glance at the table will tell observers that this is set to be the closest race for the title for many years, with three evenly matched teams within five points of each other heading into this weekend’s fixtures.
Is it that close, though? Mancini has emphasised the challenge posed by Manchester United and Tottenham but, in reality, City should have the title all but wrapped up by April.
On Sunday, City entertain Tottenham knowing a win would move them eight points clear of Harry Redknapp’s third-placed side and, for the time being at least, cut the title challenge to a two-horse race.
Mancini’s players will, of course, have fond memories of their last game against Spurs, a 5-1 win at White Hart Lane back in August. By that stage, City were already top of the Premier League, a position they continue to hold as they live up to their tag as favourites to win the title this season.
Man of the moment | Mancini will hope his side can take advantage of their upcoming matches
For City, this is the part of the season where every game is about the result, rather than performance. Mancini has spoken openly of his concern that his squad have not won a title before, unlike their local rivals Manchester United.
Forty-four years of history will be weighing on City’s shoulders in the final four months of the season, but their players will sense a real opportunity to kick on for glory now after weathering a recent dip in form.
|PATH TO GLORY
Man City's next 10 PL fixtures
||Aston Villa (A)
|Mar 10||Swansea (A)|
|Mar 17||Chelsea (H)|
|Mar 24||Stoke (A)|
|Mar 31||Sunderland (H)|
After Tottenham, Mancini’s side face a run of nine league games that are all eminently winnable, only two of which are against sides currently in the top half of the Premier League.
On face value, City will expect to win every game comfortably, with a trip to Stoke and the visit of Chelsea the hardest games in a run that could define the season.
Mancini has consistently described January as the critical month for City’s title ambitions, believing his side will be ‘ok’ should they emerge from the month in top spot. Without the likes of Yaya Toure, currently absent at the African Cup of Nations, and suspended captain Vincent Kompany, City have had a wobble in recent weeks.
But those key players will return to play the majority of City’s easy run before they travel to Arsenal on April 7.
In the meantime, City’s title rivals will face far more testing games that are likely to see them fall well behind the Premier League pace-setters.
United, for example, face trips to Chelsea and Tottenham in addition to a home game against Liverpool. Spurs have to contend with a horrible run of six away games at City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea and Sunderland.
City, for their part, played five of the ‘big six’ away from home in the first half of the season and the league could easily open up for them in the next two-and-a-half months.
The question, as yet unanswered, will be how they can handle the pressure as they close in on a first title in more than four decades, and whether they can find a way to win even when their play becomes notably tense and stifled.
Mancini has the largest, strongest squad in the country at his disposal and he has rotated players throughout the season to make sure everyone is as fresh as possible for such crucial games.
Without the distraction of the Champions League - from which they were eliminated in the group stage - City will sense a real chance now to push on and make the title theirs.
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