The intriguing issue of how Manchester City will react to the numbing disappointment of elimination from the Champions league forms the lead narrative as Roberto Mancini’s men travel to Chelsea on Monday. Never has a team started a Premier League season in such exhilarating form; the Citizens breaking records for points, victories and goals scored throughout the early stages of the season. The talent of this most expensively assembled of squads is beyond reproach. The failure to progress beyond the group stages of the Champions League does however raise issues of the team’s mental fortitude.
The conviction with which City eviscerated opposition as strong as Newcastle United, Tottenham and Manchester United alluded to a team with an innate self-confidence. In no circumstance would doubt be allowed to flicker. Each pass was timed to perfection, implausible dribbles were completed and outrageous goals scored. Put simply, Manchester City have been by far this season’s outstanding side and are thoroughly deserving of their place at the top of the Premier League.
This is however Manchester City we are talking about: the Manchester City whose players were instructed to head for the corners and waste time, oblivious to the fact that they required another goal to save them from relegation; the team which in 1998 became the first ever winners of a European trophy to be demoted to the third tier of their domestic league. In short, this is a club with catastrophe woven into its very identity. Forget the money spent on the players and the illusion of perfection gleaming from the stands at the Etihad Stadium and its Carrington training ground. Indeed, forget logic and rational thought. Those with knowledge of City’s inherent capacity to self-destruct know that this is the perfect time to raise concerns.
What better a fixture could have been conjured, therefore, than a trip to Andre Vilas-Boas’ resurgent Chelsea to test the morale? Vilas-Boas’ position is apparently already under threat – although even with Roman Abramovich’s capacity to wield the axe with graceless abandon, you sense that it is pressure entirely concocted by the media. The Portugese has already pointed to the sensational start to the season made by Monday’s opponents as a means of self-preservation. In a regular Premier League campaign, he justifiably argued, 28 points from 14 games would place his team within touching distance of the top. It is only owing to the brilliance of Mancini’s men that such a chasm between the two sides exists. A chasm though it is, there remains enough time in the season for it to be bridged.
The narrative is therefore clear. Victory would be a significant sign that this City outfit means business, that they are a hard-nosed, ruthless side with the constitution to treat triumph and disaster just the same. As much as it would assuage any misplaced fears about the season imploding, in more pragmatic terms the distance generated between City and Chelsea would leave Vilas-Boas’ men in need of snookers to revive their championship hopes.
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