Seven minutes was all it took for Manchester City to leap above Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday as the Blues took advantage of not only Spurs’ defeat by Sunderland but also some of the worst defending imaginable courtesy of a doomed Burnley side. With six games to go, City saved their most devastating performance of the season for the best possible moment.
After going three goals up inside 10 minutes against the Clarets, City kept their foot on the accelerator to seriously press home their superiority over Brian Laws’ struggling side – any Tottenham fans watching, hoping for a let-off following their slip in the North East, will have been as disappointed as the City support was jubilant. With Liverpool dropping points away to Birmingham City on Sunday and Aston Villa falling off the pace in recent weeks, the struggle for the final Champions League place looks increasingly like a two-way slug-fest between Roberto Mancini and Harry Redknapp. Villa and Liverpool currently sit five and four points respectively off City, leaving both sides trailing in the Blues’ wake as Mancio’s men surge past the competition – but with only a single point cushion over Spurs.
The ferocity of City’s attack on Saturday may have been forgotten in the general incredulity over the result and the negligent Burnley defence – indeed, City’s front four of Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson were made to look like the Brazil side of 1970 by Burnley’s porous defensive unit – but the fact remains the quartet linked together with rare quality to exploit the gaping holes in the home side’s back-line. Johnson in particular has been a revelation since arriving from Middlesbrough in January, providing a threat from the right wing severely lacking in most of Shaun Wright-Phillips’ performances this season. Talk of an England call-up for the 22-year-old is not undeserved – if Aaron Lennon cannot regain his fitness in time for the World Cup, Johnson looks a better option than Wright-Phillips at the minute.
On the opposite flank to Johnson, Bellamy has had a quieter second half to the season after a barnstorming first – Mancini perhaps not having the same faith in the Welshman as his predecessor, and Bellamy’s compatriot – Mark Hughes. Even still, Bellamy showed on Saturday he is still a dangerous striker when given the chance, and the 10 goals in all competitions the No.39 has amassed this season is only the second time he has reached double figures since leaving Newcastle United in 2005. The pace and industry of Bellamy and Tevez – combined with the trickery of Johnson – has begun to provide the perfect foil of Adebayor, now returned from suspension. If the Togo captain can rediscover his early-season form – and avoid more disciplinary problems – City’s front line will be a match for any defence in the division.
Having Adebayor fit and available will be vital to City’s Champions League hopes, especially with Roque Santa Cruz’s season so disjointed through injuries. The Paraguayan has made just 17 appearances since joining from Blackburn Rovers – netting four times – robbing City of a target man for much of the season, with Adebayor suffering from injury himself, as well as suspension, international duty and compassionate leave following the tragic events at the Africa Cup of Nations. Despite the disorderly season Adebayor has endured, he still boasts 11 goals to his name – a decent return from 26 appearances but less than one would hope for from a £25m striker. Two goals against Burnley – Adebayor’s first goals since February – will be a timely boost for the forward hoping to fire City into Europe.
For much of the season, it seemed Spurs’ attacking options would be enough to take them into the Champions League – Jermain Defoe was in excellent form, Robbie Keane was still at White Hart Lane and Peter Crouch was as much of a handful as ever. Now, however, it is City with the firepower – Defoe has stumbled into a barren spell and Keane is scoring goals for Celtic, leaving Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko to shoulder the burden, just as City find their own scoring form. The Blues will not face a defence as fragile as Burnley’s every week but the confidence gained from smashing half a dozen goals in will be crucial with the end of the season drawing ever closer.
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