Villa away fixture a test of Manchester City’s title mettle

September 25, 2013 in Premier League by Louis Baxter

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It’s been an excellent seven days for Manchester City. Three games played, three games won, 12 goals scored and only one conceded. After a stuttering start, with poor performances against Hull, Stoke and most notably Cardiff, City appear to have found their groove under Pellegrini, playing some great football and getting goals from a variety of sources. But in a way, this Saturday’s low-key trip to Villa Park is a greater indicator of the credibility of their title challenge than Plzen, United or Wigan. Consistency was City’s great undoing last season; even in a season considered a gross failure, no team in the top 5 got the better of them over two fixtures, with City taking four points off Chelsea, four off Arsenal, and three off United and Spurs. Even in the maelstrom and disharmony of Mancini’s final days, City still managed a memorable 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, outplaying the champions on their home turf and muting their title celebrations somewhat. City have taken 12 of the last 15 available Premier League points off Manchester United, so perhaps that is not the greatest test of their title-winning credentials.


Rather, City’s main weakness has been - both last season and so far this - away games against teams traditionally in the bottom half. Last season, City took only four points off an available nine against newly promoted sides away from home; a win at the woeful Reading, a meek draw at West Ham, and that nightmare day at St Mary’s where they were outplayed by Southampton and were defeated 3-1. So far this year, their away fixtures have been Cardiff and Stoke, and they’ve taken one point from an available six, and quite frankly, they were lucky to get that, with Stoke’s reliably terrible striker Jonathan Walters missing multiple sitters. Cardiff, another newly promoted team, defeated them 3-2, further indicating Man City’s vulnerability in these kind of fixtures - sides who soak up City’s play and hit them on the break.

Of course, that was before City found the exhilarating and ruthless form they’ve tapped into this week. So on those terms, an away game against Villa - a team they would be expected to beat, and now with their main man Benteke injured, they are under no obligation to do anything other than protect the 0-0 - is the perfect fixture to see whether City really have found the groove for good. It should be said that an absent Vincent Kompany was probably a factor in those early away games. Trying to learn to play a new way without your captain and leader is going to cause some hiccups. But Kompany will start on Saturday, so that is no longer an excuse. Arrogance has been a problem in these kind of games, with City playing lazily, at 60%, believing that is all that is necessary to beat bottom-half teams. But that is not the case, proved by their lost Premier League title and humiliation on FA Cup Final day in May. That complacency has to disappear from their game if they are to be champions again, and this weekend will be a good test to see whether it will seep back in, or whether Pellegrini has began to drive it out for good.

As for City’s new signings, the only unqualified success so far is Negredo, who despite being a Spanish international in the tiki-taka era, is nothing like other prominent Spanish CF’s. His game is power, graft and physical threat, and he already looks like he’s going to fit the style of the Premier League like a glove; his barnstorming display against United was a marker, giving Ferdinand and Vidic a torrid time and occupying the United centre-backs to such a degree that neither one could pick up Aguero safely. Fernandinho was excellent against United, but still seems to be feeling his way into the City team, although it should be said he looks much more comfortable in a deeper role than he does in an attacking sense. Navas has looked on and off so far, two brilliant games and a couple of bland ones, but he clearly has the talent and the pace to cause full backs nightmares. It’s just a question of him acquiring the confidence to take defenders on more regularly. Jovetic, missing the beginning of the season through injury, made a promising start, two goals against Wigan last night, but is unlikely to displace Aguero in the starting line up.

I believe that if everyone plays to the best of their ability in every game, City would be the best team in this league. They have such a deep well of talent and a manager who to say the least has made a very promising start. But I won’t believe in City’s title credentials until they begin to develop some consistency, put a run of five or six wins on the trot. It’s what they couldn’t do last year, but perhaps the holistic approach will yield some evolution. Aston Villa v Man City may not seem like a blockbuster, but for those wondering if City are a legitimate title threat, it might be one worth watching.