LONDON, March 12 – Television footage showed some Manchester City fans in tears after their side’s 1-0 defeat at Swansea City yesterday cost them top spot in the Premier League.
While their reaction was premature, City’s hopes of winning their first English title since 1968 now look fragile with champions Manchester United once again displaying their knack of accumulating victories down the home straight.
United’s 2-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion put them a point clear with 10 games to go and although City manager Roberto Mancini shrugged off the significance of defeat at Swansea, fans will be fearing the worst.
Before United travel to City on April 30 they have winnable home games against Fulham, Queen Park Rangers, Aston Villa and Everton while away trips to relegation-haunted Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic look enticing.
In that same period City, for whom the goals away from home have dried up, host Chelsea and must also travel to a rejuvenated Arsenal.
By the time Chelsea arrive at the Etihad Stadium on March 21, United could already have stolen a march in the title race with victory at Wolves three days earlier.
Bookmakers have made United odds on favourites to retain the title they have monopolised in the past five seasons.
City’s biggest problem appears to be in the goalscoring department, particularly away from home where they have found the net only twice in their last five matches – a run that has included 1-0 defeats at Swansea, Everton and Sunderland.
“There are 10 games to go, and it’s important we start to score and win again,” Mancini told the club’s website (www.mcfc.co.uk).
“Some players may be tired after seven months of the season, but I think we have a lot of energy to get back to the top.
“It all depends on us; we have 10 games and anything could happen. We have to be strong, when you’re at the top it’s easy, when you’re not you have to be strong.”
A lack of firepower could even signal a surprise return for troubled striker Carlos Tevez, especially with Mario Balotelli’s histrionics on and off the pitch causing problems for Mancini.
United, on the other hand, have Wayne Rooney reaching peak form at just the right time.
He scored both goals against West Brom and has hit nine in his last six games in all competitions.
“It’s where you want to be and it’s where you want to finish,” Rooney told MUTV. “It’s nice to be there now. I don’t think we’ve had the credit we deserve over the last few months.
“Fair enough, our form in Europe has been disappointing. But in the Premier League we’ve had very tough games and played a lot of the big teams. Sometimes we haven’t been at our best but we’ve got the wins.
“It’s great credit to the team for the hard work and spirit we’ve shown to keep tallying up those points. I think we fully deserve to be top.”
Having negotiated a testing run of fixtures with little or no damage, few would bet against Alex Ferguson’s side surging to a 20th league title. – Reuters