Monday’s 4-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers took Manchester City past the half-way stage of the 2009/10 season, giving the Sky Blues 38 points from 20 games. Mark Hughes was set a target of 70 points for the year, and sacked when the City hierarchy felt he was going to fall short. Currently fourth, the combined efforts of the Welshman and Roberto Mancini could yet yield the magic number.
There is little difference in difficulty between City’s half of the season and the second. August to January saw the Sky Blues visit Old Trafford and Anfield and host Chelsea and Arsenal, while between now and May things are reversed – Mancini faces trips to Stamford Bridge and the Emirates Stadium, while welcoming Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez to Eastlands. Even the boost of playing an inconsistent Manchester United at home, where City are impressively strong, is washed out by having to enter Chelsea’s fortress in February. However, games at home against Portsmouth, Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic should provide Mancio with nine points, although given City’s predictably unpredictable nature, they could just as easily drop points in all of them.
City took nine wins, eight draws and two defeats from their first 19 games this term, with their only losses coming against local rivals United and Tottenham Hotspur. The beating at Old Trafford could so easily have been a hard-earned point but for Michael Owen’s late, late winner, while the thumping at White Hart Lane was the final nail in Hughes’ coffin, although it was the eight draws that really did for the Welshman. If Mancini is to succeed in Manchester, it is the win-ratio record he needs to improve. Last night’s Carlos Tevez-inspired trouncing of Blackburn took that number to 50%, greater than Everton’s over the whole of last season, who could only claim a 44% total and still finished fifth (which is, incidentally, the position City would have achieved in last year’s table had they reached 70 points, as was targeted for this campaign). City’s win-ratio is on par with Aston Villa and Liverpool, below but still short of fifth-placed Tottenham (55%), and Arsenal (65%), Manchester United (66% from 21 games) and Chelsea (70%). But the eight draws, 40% of City’s results, is far higher than Everton’s tally for 2008/09 – David Moyes’ team took 12 draws from their 38 games, a ratio of 31%.
The question is how Mancini goes about turning draws into wins. City cannot be accused of lacking goals – in their 20 games this season, they have netted a remarkable 42 times. That amount is as many or more than 13 teams managed in the whole of last season, and puts City on course to eclipse their own total of 54 for 2008/09. Goal scoring is not a problem at Eastlands – the worries come at the other end of the pitch. Despite having arguably the best goalkeeper in the league wearing their shirt, City’s defensive record is near-disastrous, conceding 28 goals from 20 games, which, if taken to represent a full season’s worth, would be 55 from 38, more than every team in the top half of last year’s final Premier League table. Thankfully for City, football does not work like that and there is time to correct matters. Clean sheets against both Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers indicate Mancini is on the right path.
Looking at City’s remaining games, statistics predict City to manage seven wins, nine draws and two defeats in the second half of the season, providing they avoid a massive injury crisis or something similarly unforeseen. Victories would come over Portsmouth, Hull, Bolton, Fulham, Wigan, Birmingham and West Ham. The draws would be against Everton (twice – they have yet to play each other this season), Stoke, Liverpool, Tottenham, Sunderland, Burnley, United and Aston Villa, leaving defeats in away games to Chelsea and Arsenal. Those results would give City a total of 68 points, two short of the 70 set out for Hughes at the start of the season. If Mancini can turn one point into three, a title challenge in this rollercoaster season is not an impossible dream.