Everything changes at warp speed in football.
After Wednesday night’s hugely significant and very hard-fought win at Arsenal, it looked like Manchester City were on the home stretch for their 5th Premier League title in 6 seasons.
Then, on Saturday, the fates suddenly conspired to give Arsenal a barely deserved injury-time victory at Aston Villa, while a totally dominant City threw away two valuable points at Nottingham Forest, having put in one of their best overall performances of this or any other season, but while missing sitter after sitter. It happens.
It is unequivocally true that this has not been one of their better seasons under Pep but there is still every reason to believe that there are green shoots everywhere which suggests they remain on track for two or three trophies, nonetheless
If they win their next three games over just seven days(sadly, the schedule remains crazy and potentially dangerous to the player’s wellbeing), all away at Leipzig, Bournemouth and Bristol City, and all in different competitions, then they can quickly get back on track. I think they will.
Why the confidence? Well, first of all, they have remained reasonably injury-free this season with major set-backs, like the current one to John Sones, having occurred largely and fortunately in the back-four area where City are arguably over-stocked with five, international-class, centre-backs. It would be different if two or more of Rodri, De Bruyne(fast returning to his best), Bernardo and Gundogan were out for a lengthy period because three of those four midfielders are, arguably, vital week on week.
While there is much talk of a new left-back recruit and maybe another wide player to challenge Grealish, Mahrez and Foden, it’s the slender midfield squad that needs strengthening first, especially as Gundogan and De Bruyne are in their thirties, and with a third, Bernardo, still seeming to want away at the end of the season. Kalvin Phillips finally coming through will, of course, ease these worries.
New recruits, however, like Bellingham and Maddison among others, have become more of a stretch since the alleged offences raised their ugly heads. Will major, quality signings of this ilk think twice before City can clear their name? It’s probably the biggest long-term problem facing the club.
Shorter term, there are good signs everywhere.
Pep’s impassioned press conference after the alleged PL charges (it’s depressing how many sources are discounting City’s innocence before being proven guilty, by leaving out the word ‘alleged’) has palpably galvanised the players, fans and club into a siege mentality that had improved them immeasurably, and looks like sweeping them to yet another successful season’s end.
Also, Phil Foden’s welcome return to form on Saturday, as Grealish continues to play his best football since arriving, means that any two out of three wide men, including the excellent Mahrez, will strike fear into all opposition defences.
And, last but not least, Erling Haaland (ably backed up by World Cup winner, Julian Alvarez), while slowing down a little on his phenomenal scoring rate, finally looks like he is integrating well into the greater good of the whole team. His work rate and overall performance at Arsenal was excellent. In his case, a very tall green shoot!