They don’t seem to come along as often as you need them, but when they do it feels like winning the lottery. The perfect weekend however, as elusive as it is, is exactly what Manchester City were blessed with, and it even extended to the midweek fixtures as Manuel Pellegrini’s side now seem all but certain to finish in the top four.
It was an entirely different narrative following the derby defeat at Old Trafford, when the champions were mired deep in crisis. It seemed a distinct possibility that not only would City fail to retain the Premier League crown, but moreover might miss out on qualification for the Champions League. Predictions of doom surrounding the playing staff, manager, and implications of Financial Fair Play were levelled at the club, who despite some nerves against Aston Villa have responded with back-to-back wins.
Following Liverpool’s defeat at Hull on Tuesday night, the race between City, Arsenal and Manchester United for the Champions League places now appears to have morphed into a battle to finish in the top three and avoid the inconvenience of a qualifying round to reach Europe’s premier club competition.
The 2015-16 Premier League season is scheduled to start early on August 8 due to the European Championships the following summer, while the play-off tie for the fourth placed team to reach the Champions League will take place over two legs in mid-late August. An early bout of fixture congestion is hardly ideal for any manager with designs on a long season fighting for the title, while there remains the possibility of facing a tricky opponent or travelling long distances.
It will no doubt be a summer of rebuilding at the Etihad Stadium, with plenty of question marks hanging over the heads of certain players, and indeed the manager himself. The names of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti have been mooted as potential replacements for Pellegrini, who may even prefer to jump before he is pushed if it came to a waiting game for Guardiola.
Doubts have surfaced over captain Vincent Kompany’s ability to continue being the incredible force he has been over the past few years, while James Milner’s contract standoff drags on and Frank Lampard must be replaced.
All the issues must be solved within the confines of FFP, with many supporters keen for the club to look to its ever-improving academy, whose under-18 side this week lost in the Youth Cup final against Chelsea. Kelechi Iheanacho is one of the standout names tipped for big things, but whether he gets a chance in the first team may depend on the comings and goings on the managerial and playing staff.
In any case, the distraction of extra games so early in the new campaign as they seek to wrestle back the title from its near-certain Stamford Bridge destination, while integrating new signings and possibly a new manager would not be welcome. The Copa America will also influence City due to their strong contingent of South Americans that includes Argentinian trio Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis and Sergio Aguero.
Next up though a trip to White Hart Lane awaits the Blues at the weekend, and while another perfect set of results may be too much to ask for, successfully negotiating their own tricky fixture could go a long way to seeing Pellegrini’s side finish in the top three.
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