The last time Manchester City reached the top spot of the Premier League, they looked imperious, bulldozing Aston Villa 5-0 early in November 2012. But they then proved to be considerably less than that – losing their place at the summit within a week and little knowing that 2013 would virtually be over before they were kings of the castle again, 419 long days later.
Their place at the top – taken after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat of Crystal Palace – has proved short-lived once more, with Arsenal regaining it on Sunday. But Manuel Pellegrini’s City look better equipped and more motivated than Roberto Mancini’s side did. Afternoons of attrition like Saturday revealed how challenging it will be. Palace looked like a side City should have blown away, yet Joe Hart ended up taking the man of the match award along with six stitches to a black eye.
“For us it was walking on eggshells,” said captain Vincent Kompany, whose recovery of fitness and form suggests City will not have to buy a defender in the January transfer window. “You were worried what was going to happen at the break, was someone going to slip up? It was that kind of game. We struggled with this kind of game a couple of years ago, so this result is massive.”
Palace manager Tony Pulis will have resources of his own to spend next month, though his nine points attained and seven goals conceded from seven games only begins to tell the story of a side he has supremely well organised. Fulham, West Ham and Sunderland have grounds to look at what Pulis has done and feel fear. “It was important we tried to get up within a certain number of points of the rest of the group at the bottom of the table,” he said. “We’ve done that. It gives us a chance.”