Realistic Rather Than Optimistic

By David Mooney, Sun 01 April 2012 18:07


Realistic Rather Than Optimistic

That's that, then. March is done and dusted and it's a not-so-polite f*ck off from me towards the month that has been as good for our title hopes as that last packet of biscuits has been for my training schedule before the Manchester 10k. From a possible fifteen Premier League points this month, City have taken eight. Two wins, two draws and a defeat and finishing the month two points off the top of the league, having played a game more than the leaders.

City started the month five points ahead of second place, also having played a game more. Throw in an exit from Europe and only one of City's seven games in all competitions producing a good ninety minute performance from the blues and it's probably been the worst month of the season.

Despite it still being mathematically possible, it's at this point where I nail the Mooney colours to the mast and confirm, if the mildly sombre tone of this column so far hasn't already done so, that my towel is in the ring and I have come to the conclusion that City will probably not win the league this season. For me, the time has come to be realistic, rather than optimistic.

The warning signs have been there for a while and a draw with Sunderland isn't where it's gone wrong. In fact, at home isn't where it's gone wrong, given that point against the Black Cats meant that was the first time since February 2011 that City didn't take all three points in a home game. The costly errors have been on the road. Fulham and Liverpool early on were minor setbacks, but nothing we couldn't handle. Same with Chelsea and, to a degree, Everton. But soon, Swansea happened and then Peter Crouch proved why he's a Jedi, being a true-to-life example of Yoda's words: “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Nevertheless, hand on heart, I can honestly say I've not been convinced by an away performance of City's after the derby victory in October.

Since then, City have played ten times in the league away from The Etihad Stadium and picked up 12 of a possible 30 points. Of those ten games, City have won three (QPR, Wigan, Aston Villa), drawn three (Liverpool, West Brom, Stoke) and lost four (Chelsea, Sunderland, Everton, Swansea). And they've not been particularly convincing in any of them, unlike the away games before them (Bolton, Tottenham, Fulham (albeit a draw), Blackburn, Manchester United). Last season, this stuttering away form and near perfect home form (remind you of anyone?) would have been good enough, but, unfortunately (perhaps unluckily) for us, this season, it's not.

In fact, any other season, City would probably still be in front and favourites. But, this season they're not and, the truth is, I wonder where our next away points will come from. Wolves at Molineux is the only game I can see City taking maximum points from; Arsenal, Newcastle and Norwich are away days I really don't fancy.

And now we've hit the situation where United can lose the derby, but still win the league. City need a favour off somebody else. Of course, though, if that favour does come, City really need to help themselves, something they haven't been doing for the last month, at the very least.

Yet, whatever the outcome, this will be City's best ever Premier League season, given the club has exactly the same points total now as they did at the end of their previous best ever Premier League season – ie. Last season. Year on year for the last three campaigns, we have had our best ever in the Premier League; there's been progress and there have been lessons well and truly learnt. Roberto Mancini's City have always been better with each passing season.

This season, his side re-wrote the record books early on. They stole the consecutive home wins record. They've given United their biggest ever home Premier League defeat. They've played football the likes of which most City fans have only dreamt of. And this is why anybody considering that the manager should lose his job if the club doesn't finish top of the pile is so, so wrong.

Okay, so the progress hasn't quite been as drastic as expected. Last year, we ended the trophy drought and made the step up to the Champions League. This year, barring any disasters, we have stepped up at least one league position, with more points and more goals. And we've genuinely challenged for a title – that still could be ours, however unlikely you or I think it now – instead of flirting with the top spot having played three more games than anyone else over Christmas. Mancini has been building on what he's achieved each season and to scrap that and start again with a new man is ludicrous.

Look at where that's gotten Chelsea.

That's not to say we shouldn't be disappointed if we don't win the league. We most definitely should; we've been on top of the thing for months, so not to finish the job is upsetting. However, the future is surely brighter for City than you would immediately think: Chelsea and Arsenal have fallen away and need strengthening to be able to fight for the title again, especially the latter of the two. United are weaker than most seasons (though not as weak as some would have you believe) and they haven't played the quality of football that's set them apart from most of the division – surely, without investment and improvement, they can't keep on scraping through for another 12 months?

Meanwhile, I'd suggest City will come back stronger next season, whether we win the league or not. Think for a moment of next season's title challenge if we don't win it this season; Roberto Mancini most definitely isn't going to let the squad go out all guns blazing and fade away again. Now imagine City do win the league this season; Roberto Mancini most definitely won't let the squad go out all guns blazing and fade away again.

Think of how you felt last season when Wayne Rooney's overhead kick hit the back of Joe Hart's net. Then think back to October and how you felt the next time those two teams played out that particular fixture, specifically when Dzeko's second wriggled through De Gea. The overhead kick doesn't matter so much anymore, eh?

So be disappointed that we dropped two points to Sunderland. Be disappointed that we handed the initiative to United. Be disappointed if we don't come back and win it. But look at the bigger picture. That title is certainly coming and it's coming soon.

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