Only Europe can arrest City swagger
Manchester City 5 Norwich City 1
The Etihad Stadium
Monday 05 December 2011
A lot of people are looking forward to Wednesday night and the chance to see Manchester City, however briefly, humbled and hamstrung. Watching Bayern Munich, those great representatives of European old money, consign these arrivistes to the indignities of the Europa League will have a certain poignancy. However, it will not be quite as fitting as watching Trelleborgs, a team of Swedish part-timers, knock Blackburn – then fabulously funded by Jack Walker – out of Europe in 1994.
There was plenty of laughter then, laughter that had long faded when Blackburn won the title eight months later. Kenny Dalglish reflected on the irony that after elimination from the Uefa Cup he had been told that money could not buy success. Now, he was being accused of buying the title. Roberto Mancini is likely to face the same contradictory headlines.
Blackburn's title-winning side was an entertaining one – only three Premier League champions have surpassed their tally of 80 goals – but, compared to City in their current mood, they played the percentages like Leeds United under Don Revie. Norwich did not perform especially badly at Eastlands but they became the sixth team to concede three goals or more here.
On the surface, City's domestic transformation appears astonishing. Mancini was regarded as a safety-first manager who joked that his favourite scoreline was 1-0. Last season, when faced with Arsenal or Manchester United, he appeared determined to cut out any risk; now his is a side cut gloriously free.
David Platt, his one-time team-mate at Sampdoria and now his confidant at Manchester City, argued that with the footballers Mancini has brought to the club in the past 12 months, there is no option but to go forward.
"Last year we did not have the kind of players we do now," he said. "Roberto has added to the squad with Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri, while Edin Dzeko came in January. This means we can't actually play defensively because of the characteristics of the players. We don't really have a choice.
"When we beat Tottenham 5-1, United went out the [same] day and put eight past Arsenal. Roberto said to the players that they couldn't take their foot off the pedal – we should go on and keep scoring. The most pleasing thing is that there were five different scorers. Last year we had only Carlos Tevez and Yaya Touré who chipped in with anything like a good quota."
Gareth Barry remarked that last season, when things began turning against City: "Everyone looked to Carlos." Now, they simply look around to Aguero, Touré, Nasri, Mario Balotelli and Adam Johnson. All their goals were superbly taken but none will linger quite like Balotelli's flick of the shoulder that produced the fourth. It had the style and arrogance that Malcolm Allison would have relished.
Scoring goals by itself is not enough. Platt talked of the pressure that comes when big win after big win does not lead to a decisive breakaway. United may be wheezing through their games but they remain only five points behind. Of the last three teams to break the 100-goal barrier, only Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea finished with the championship. If they continue at their present rate, City will break the top-flight record of 128 goals set by Aston Villa in 1930-31 and, no, they didn't win the title either.
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