Man City can still go on title-winning run starting with victory at Norwich
When Manchester City completed a comfortable 5-1 rout of Bournemouth in the first weeks of October, nobody in their right mind thought that the victory would represent the last time Manuel Pellegrini's side would achieve back-to-back wins this season. After three successive defeats -- another feat deemed more than unlikely in these modern times at the Etihad -- City now have the chance to register two successive wins for the first time since that Bournemouth romp succeeded an even bigger 6-1 home win over Newcastle United on Oct. 3, 2015.
That the opportunity falls at Norwich is apt. Four years ago, at almost precisely the same point in the season, City headed to East Anglia with a five-point deficit to make up on Manchester United. Then as now, the presence of television cameras had deemed an early kick-off necessary. Inspired by the return from suspension of Carlos Tevez -- the aftermath of that infamous saga when he'd refused to warm up at Bayern Munich in the Champions League -- City waltzed to a 6-1 win in the sunshine.
It was a performance of balance and power that preceded a run-in to the title and eventually put their great rivals in the shade in 2nd place. It was a never-to-be-forgotten, cathartic moment for the club. Looking at the shapeless remnants of Thursday's Manchester United vs. Liverpool Europa League tie, it is tempting to suggest that for one Manchester club, the rot set in around about there. For the other, it's been a story of almost unbroken success ever since.
Football's fascinating tableau of plots and sub-plots continues apace this season, with City finding themselves having to reel in three opponents, not one, in the current title race. That none of them is Manchester United is a sign of the times. Before them sit Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal. Some would say the job has been made more complicated by this congestion at the top of the table.
The alternative view is that all of these clubs will lose points in the coming weeks as the pressure tells on players, who have never been in this position before. City, on the other hand, possess a squad jam-packed with experience of the tension of the title run-in. Twice these players have held their nerve to pip United and then -- two years later in 2013-14 -- edge past Liverpool, who were supposedly riding home on a nationwide tide of emotional support.
City's players are steeped in the hard and battle-worn art of survival in these chases. Nothing will phase the likes of Yaya Toure -- missing this weekend with a recurrence of his heel injury -- or David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero as the finishing tape comes into view. Can the same be said for Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy and Per Mertesacker?
"We cannot just depend on what we do," stated Pellergini in his Friday press conference. He is right that City require favours from others; all his players can do at this point is crank up the pressure on those ahead of them. In the new scheme of things, fourth place is worth little to this stellar squad. After all, Sheikh Mansour is aiming at higher levels of achievement than having to pre-qualify for next season's Champions League.
City's oft-quoted season finishes over the past four years bode well for the future. On three of the last four occasions, they have closed the season with winning streaks stretching to either five or six matches. Repeat that here from slightly further out in the run-in and there will be a dramatic surge for the line come May.
To set all of this in motion once again, City need to follow up an easy stroll against Aston Villa last Saturday with three more points at Carrow Road. Norwich represent a far trickier prospect than a subdued and confused Villa did a week ago. They have talent, organization and fight, all of which was on show when they were pipped unluckily at Leicester two weeks ago.
However, it is against sides in the lower reaches that City have been most successful this season. Their record against fellow members of the top six is deplorable. They must, therefore, make hay in East Anglia against a side that has won a single point from their last 27 available and begin a charge up the table that will see the leading pack begin to look over their shoulders in angst.
There are still 10 big games for City to play; they're capable of winning at least eight of them. Do this -- and pick up a draw from the other two -- and they will find themselves there or thereabouts when the medals are handed out on May 15.