Nothing's ever simple at City
“We’re still members of the National Trust,” my dad said to break the silence in the room. The weekend was approaching and discussion had dropped dead following the thoughts of Manchester City’s crucial, season-defining match with West Ham United on Sunday. Nerves will do strange things to a man -- I’m not even sure that, as a family, we’ve even once been to a National Trust site.
And I bet when you came here to read all about the crucial final game of the season at the Etihad you didn’t reckon upon reading the words “members of the National Trust,” but if nothing else I am at least surprising.
The thing is, despite a draw being good enough for City to lift their second Premier League title, every single Blues fan is terrified that Manuel Pellegrini’s men will contrive to do something silly like give away a last-minute penalty to seal the West Ham win or have their goalkeeper sent off inside 30 seconds. Nobody inside the Etihad -- with the exception of the away end, of course -- will feel comfortable until the home side have scored at least three.
One goal can quickly be overturned; two goals ahead shouldn’t yield anything less than a draw, but stranger things have happened as Crystal Palace proved; three goals should be enough to ensure the point. Though four would make doubly sure.
See? Nerves can turn a usually sensible thought process to mush -- City have scored three or more on 19 occasions in the Premier League so far this season. That’s in just more than half of their games ... and there are Blues supporters out there who will head to the ground on Sunday thinking, despite all the evidence to the contrary this campaign, "I can see them not scoring today."
I’m not ruling out the possibility of City messing up here, far from it ... If there’s one club in the world that could draw 0-0 with West Ham on Sunday only to get in at full time and find Liverpool have beaten Newcastle by 13 goals then it’s Manchester City.
They have a rich and fulfilling history of, as the kids say, epic fails -- being relegated while they were reigning league champions is a personal favourite of mine, though Denis Law scoring all six goals in a game that was called off at Luton (while the Blues were leading 6-1) only for the Hatters to win the rescheduled match is a close second.
The truth is, though, City shouldn’t muck it up. If they do, then they don’t deserve to win the title; if the players and the manager can’t cope with the pressure of needing a draw on the final match of the campaign and end up capitulating, then they’re not fit to top the table. Though with most of the first team having played in that 2012 near-catastrophe against QPR, the crowd will be hoping those on the pitch will not be as tense as those in the stands.
Recent history might help to settle the home fans’ nerves, however. Maybe it would help calm you down if I told you that West Ham have never won in the Premier League at the Etihad Stadium (and the away side not winning is all City really need, barring the very, very unlikely). In fact, City have won them all but one -- a 1-1 draw when Sven-Goran Eriksson was in charge in 2007-08. Further, the Hammers have won twice in their past 25 visits to City.
For the superstitious -- especially when it comes to the match officials -- the referee on Sunday will be Martin Atkinson, who has presided over City’s past two domestic trophy wins, officiating the FA Cup final in 2011 and the League Cup final earlier this year.
Another positive for Pellegrini is that, for possibly the first time this season, he’s got every single player fit and available for selection on Sunday. Except maybe Matija Nastasic, though he’s been on the sick list for so long that everybody forgot to confirm with the manager at his news conference on Friday whether the Serbian centre-half was fit or not. It hardly matters, mind, as the heart of the back four will be Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis.
The only real question for the Chilean is whether he will select Sergio Aguero -- who missed the midweek win over Aston Villa following his injury against Everton -- from the start or whether he’ll be unleashed later in the game against a tiring Hammers defence.
Stevan Jovetic probably did enough on Wednesday to earn himself a starting berth, too ... but it’s unlikely the manager is going to change too much ahead of the biggest game of his debut year in England. Though, should Jovetic join the action and score a late winner, given the strip show he gave when netting the third in midweek, the fans inside the ground may be in for a bit of a treat!
If everything goes to plan, come Sunday evening Manchester City’s name will be on the top flight trophy for the fourth time. Most other fans in this country would be confident ahead of the game, but City’s supporters are (rightly) wary when things seem simple for their team. If history’s taught us anything, then it’s that if a situation is simple for Manchester City, then it’s a trap.
Should anybody want to go to a National Trust site on Sunday instead of biting their nails at the Etihad, then just drop me a line ... I’m seriously considering it as a way of dealing with the pre-match tension.
Here goes nothing.