Tuesday Team Talk: Man City must admit the REAL race is for top four finish

At 20 games apiece, Manchester City stood point for point, goal for goal with Chelsea, at the top of the Premier League.

Nothing could separate them as fans relished the prospect of another thrilling title run-in.

However, barely midway through March, the buzz has diminished and hopes of City lifting silverware this season are hanging by a thread.

They will indeed, have to do it ‘the City way’ once more, starting with Barcelona tomorrow evening in the Champions League last 16.

City must complete the impossible, they need to win 2-1 to force extra-time, while any victory where City score three, or win by two clear goals, will secure progression to the quarter-finals.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men can take heart from Malaga and Celta Vigo’s 1-0 victories at the Nou Camp this season – this at least shows they’re beatable.

But to find the last time Barcelona lost by a scoreline that would see them eliminated, you will have to go back to February 1 2014, when Valencia defeated the Catalan club 3-2.

The season before, just Real Madrid (3-1 in the Copa del Rey semi-final) and Bayern Munich (3-0 in the Champions League semi-final) managed the same. Clutching at straws? I guess, but it shows the impossible can be done.

In reality, City will fall to Barcelona, and will then turn to the Premier League with no more distractions, as they hope to peg back Chelsea, who er, have no distractions either. Ah.

This, too, has the air of a doomed mission.

Looking ahead to City’s next three league fixtures – West Brown (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Manchester United (A) – nothing but nine points can be taken from them, but you would argue that seven would be an impressive tally.

And after a miserable few months for City, there is the very real prospect that United could overhaul them in the league after their Old Trafford clash on April 12.

Preposterous claim it may be, but Louis van Gaal was right to welcome City to the ‘rat race’ for the top four.

And while I am not suggesting City will stumble so far as to drop out of a Champions League qualification spot, they will be playing a dangerous game unless they accept the actual fight they find themselves in.

The form table tells a similar story, with the three clubs just below them occupying the top three spots – with City sit down in seventh, they have been engulfed into the scrap for the top four whether they like it or not.

The weekend’s shock loss to Burnley may well be the catalyst the club needs to reawaken their  senses and, regardless of result, a passionate and encouraging display will be required in Barcelona – humiliation there could be disastrous.

But the biggest issue facing Pellegrini at the moment is not knowing his strongest XI – Wilfried Bony and Edin Dzeko have done the hokey cokey up front, while Fernando and Fernandinho have swapped around starting berths for the last five games since the return of Yaya Toure.

With captain Vincent Kompany also dropped against Leicester City as an indication that no one is safe, these are not problems that potential champions routinely face.

Whether a poor 2015 costs Pellegrini his job or not remains to be seen, but the likelihood of claiming top spot in May is as unlikely as Leicester staying up.

And it has been a long time since a season went by without one of the two Manchester clubs adding another trophy to their cabinet, can you think when?

Well, you would have to go back to 2004/5, in Mourinho’s first year in charge for Chelsea.

The London club went on to win their first Premier League after claiming the League Cup also, while Arsenal ran out FA Cup winners.

History, it seems, may well repeat itself once more.

Main image courtesy of Manchester City FC via YouTube, with thanks.

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