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Three steps forward after big step back

03 January 2011

It’s hard to know what to make of anything associated with the Premier League right now. I can’t think of a single club whose supporters have them all sussed out — with encouraging results leading to crushing setbacks and vice versa.

City certainly are no exception. The appalling home defeat to Everton was followed by three straight strong performances yielding nine points to move level on points with United atop the league. Yes, seven points would have been the absolute minimum expectation from those three post-Christmas matches, but given City’s track record this season of cashing in gimme points — especially at home — this can be taken as a sign of progress.

Of course, as with everything associated with the Premier League this season, there’s always the empty half of the glass. There was a touch of controversy to all four goals against Villa. City were outplayed for long stretches of the second half by both Newcastle and Blackpool, with the shock equalizer appearing inevitable. And between all the off-target City shots and their lone goal coming thanks to a deflection off a defender, the latest win over Blackpool could’ve ended up looking like that Everton match if not for some nice saves from Joe Hart.

The results at home have been disappointing — the Everton debacle and the 3-0 loss to Arsenal, and being held by the likes of Blackburn and Birmingham City — but given the home fixture list (visits from all four of the Old Big Four) and the way lesser opponents have parked the bus in front of goal at Eastlands this season, forcing a still-gelling City attack to break them down, perhaps this is to be expected.

Unfortunately, this has meant true opportunities for redemption would have to wait for the second half of the season, when City depart Manchester for the Emirates, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, and Anfield. City’s status as the Premier League’s top away side will instill confidence in their ability to go into these venues and get results. However, this raises the question of whether City are the league’s top away side because they have yet to play four of their five toughest away matches this season. Like I said, there’s a flipside to everything Prem nowadays.

Prior to Saturday’s wastefulness in front of goal (with Carlos Tévez being the primary culprit and canceling out an otherwise brilliant performance from the captain), it seemed as though the City attack finally was beginning to coalesce. David Silva has emerged as one of the top creative players in the world, turning in influential performances pretty much every time out nowadays. Mario Balotelli appears to be worth every penny, with eight goals in just 11 City appearances so far, and Yaya Touré is proving to be every bit the blockbuster signing that anyone who has seen Barcelona over the previous two seasons knew he would be.

If Roberto Mancini’s attack does successfully discover its bite, City’s title challenge may be well and fully on. The defense already is the stingiest in the Premier League, allowing just 0.76 goals per league match. Of course, such rosy predictions of everything coming together for City  look downright pie-in-the-sky in this, the Season of Unpredictable Bipolarity.

With all five contenders for the top spot — and, yes, even Spurs have to be taken seriously at this point, given their form and standing in the table — repeatedly slipping up, the first side to find their footing with a six- or seven-game winning streak will put themselves in great position to win the title. City’s chances of doing so will hinge on winning tough away fixtures like Wednesday’s visit to Arsenal.

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