With Tottenham and Arsenal performing heroics in the Champions League this week, one wonders if those associated with Manchester City have been casting envious glances towards their Premier League rivals. Off the back of a solid but unspectacular draw against Aris Salonika, that puts them in a strong position for the home leg on Thursday, their efforts paled in comparison to those of Spurs’ hard-fought win in Milan and Arsenal’s stirring comeback against Barcelona. This is the stage and standard that they currently aspire to and they find themselves in the midst of an almighty three-way scrap with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea for the privilege.
Sixth-placed Liverpool are six points behind fifth-placed Chelsea and second-placed Arsenal lead third-placed Manchester City by four points with a game in hand and, as a result, City, Spurs and Chelsea start to resemble a mini-league where coming in third does not bear thinking about.
City face Notts County in the FA Cup on Sunday and meet Aris again before they play another league game – at home against Fulham. By then Spurs will have played their game in hand at Blackpool and could leapfrog City into third place. All three sides have to face each other in the run in; City are at Chelsea in March and play Spurs at home in April, while Chelsea play Tottenham in their penultimate home fixture. A resurgent Liverpool are also charging up the table and although challenging for a Champions League spot may be beyond them, they will have some say in proceedings by playing both City and Spurs.
The Tottenham fixture aside, Manchester City have a reasonable set of home games against Fulham, Wigan, Sunderland, West Ham and Stoke. Chelsea and Liverpool aside, the away fixtures against Blackburn, a struggling Everton and Bolton could also be worse. Meanwhile, Spurs host West Ham, Stoke, West Brom, Blackpool and Birmingham, with further games away to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wigan. Chelsea have two massive games to play against Manchester United, home games versus Wigan, West Ham and Newcastle, plus travel to Blackpool, Stoke, West Brom and Everton.
With similar fixtures left to play, the matches played between the three sides should prove to be massive. Where Spurs beat City in what amounted to a Champions League play off in the final game of last season, the match up between the sides earlier this season ended in a goalless draw. Manchester City beat Chelsea at the City of Manchester Stadium in September, with a second-half goal from Carlos Tevez, Tottenham also drew with Chelsea at White Hart Lane in December, with Didier Drogba cancelling out Roman Pavlyuchenko’s opener. There is not a lot between these sides in head-to-head encounters or league position, and the race for Champions League qualification looks destined to go to the wire. It should be every bit as absorbing as the title race.