Last season we saw what many would describe as the most theatrical finish to the English Premier League in some time. The “noisy neighbors” in Manchester, as Sir Alex Ferguson would mention, flip-flopped at the top of the league with Manchester United the entire season. Heading into the final match-day, tied on points, Manchester City was atop the league on goal differential. Manchester United did its part by winning their final match against Sunderland 1-0. And with help from Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City was down 1-2 heading into injury time. Manchester City started pouring forward, wave after wave, corner after corner, but to no avail. Then the title race is flipped on its head. In the second minute of the five-minute extra time period, Edin Dzeko rises high to meet a David Silva cross to bring the Citizens level. From then on, it was inevitable that Manchester City were to score again; however, the clock was running against them. Yet, you could feel the roar from the faithful clad in sky blue. Then it happened. Sergio Aguero, as he has done all season, wiggles his way through the defense to fire home one of the most important goals in Manchester City’s history.
Nevertheless, the dream of Manchester City to repeat as champions of England is fading quickly with each passing match-day. Thus the question arises, where did the magic of last term go for Robert Mancini and his men?
One of the more glaring issues would be that of Manchester City’s defence, in particular the form of shot stopper Joe Hart. Last season, City’s defense was the stingiest team in goals of conceding goals. This season however, is a different story. The defensive lapses of this team have been one of the key factors of the gap between the two Manchester clubs.
The defensive errors of this season are one of the highlighted areas of problem for the back line. Manchester City has nearly doubled their total of defensive errors of all last season in only 26 games. And it is no surprise that these errors have led to increased activity needed from Joe Hart.
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From the table above we can see that Joe Hart has seen a dip in form this season compared to last. And unfortunately for Manchester City, this was not the year for Joe Hart to have a down season. Having allowed only 29 goals all of last season, City already have conceded 24 goals. That puts them on track to allow 35 goals this term. The only team to allow 35 or more goals and win the Premier League in the last ten years was Manchester United in 2010-2011. However, that Manchester United team also banged home 78 goals to bring their goal differential up to +41. A goal differential of that much does not seem likely and that is due to the lack of punch from the front line.
The answer to having a keeper with questionable form and a less than stellar defence has been answered brilliantly by Manchester United this season. With De Gea not developing into the goalkeeper Sir Alex Ferguson wanted, and injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic throughout the season, United have answered with maintaining their scoring up front. Something Manchester City cannot say. With Balotelli notoriously stealing headlines and Aguero shifting in and out of the squad due to injury, Mancini’s scoring threat has been drastically reduced.
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With Edin Dzeko being the only senior striker to not only maintain his form, but also improve on it, Manchester City’s attack has been very lackluster at times. Manchester City have failed to find the net in four matches this season, that matches last season’s total, with 12 games remaining. These less than stellar numbers coupled with the defensive fragility have led to some disappointing results.
After the embarrassing 3-1 loss to the hands of relegation threatened Southampton, Manchester City are now trailing Manchester United by twelve points following United’s victory over Everton on Sunday. On the positive side of things for City, both clubs still have to face 5 top ten clubs in the race to the title. Even better for City, over the next ten days for United travel to Madrid to take on Real Madrid in the first leg of the tie in the round of 16 of the Champions League, to only turn away and take on Reading in the fifth round of the FA Cup, then face QPR at Lotus Road. And the two Manchester clubs will face off again April 6th at Old Trafford. Nevertheless, even the most optimistic City fan will have to acknowledge the herculean effort needed by City and the massive downfall by United, similar to that in the 1997-1998 season where United succumbed a similar 12 point lead to Arsenal.
The crown is slipping off the head of those from the blue half of Manchester, and Manchester United smell the blood in the water. If the Citizens want to maintain the crown of England they must shore up the defensive side of their squad and somehow conjure the attacking and never quit magic from last season, we could be in store for another exciting end to the title race again. But, the most important fixture will be April 6th when the two clubs face off at Old Trafford. I expect Manchester United to win this 3-1 and move out of reach of City and be well on their way for a 20th league title.
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