The biggest threat to Manchester City in the title race this season comes from within rather than from without. City are by some way the best team in the league, possessing both superior strength and depth in their squad, making it hard to look past them when it comes to picking the most likely Premier League champions. The best hope for their opponents comes from a relatively suspect attitude away from home, which might just keep things interesting in the second half of the season.
A tenth home win in ten against Crystal Palace on Saturday saw City return to the top of the table for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. That 100% home record has brought them 30 of their 41 points to date. On the flip side, in losing to Cardiff, Villa, Chelsea and Sunderland and drawing at Stoke and Southampton, City have dropped 16 points in away fixtures. Cause for hope for their rivals.
Attitude rather than ability is at the heart City’s travel sickness. Sometimes you get the sense, particularly against the also rans, that the City slickers feel that they just have to turn up to claim another three points. On other occasions, particularly early Sunday kickoffs, Yaya and co give a good impression of men who went to 11 o’clock mass and then popped into the local and succumbed to the allure of a full carvery and a pint of the black stuff – before putting their boots on. Perhaps focusing on such sloppiness is just a case of clutching at straws. But if there should be a concern for Pellegrini, it’s that his side suffered similar lapses last season under Mancini that ultimately undermined their title defence.
And if thoughts of an away day coach ride makes City players a little less than comfortable, then a look at their fixtures in the second half of the season will suggest that their resolve will be tested to a greater extent that has been the case to date. The Citizens may have seen off champions United and rivals Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Everton and Newcastle with relative ease at the Etihad, but it’s noteworthy that they lost in their only away fixture against a top side this season – a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge. So, with tricky trips the Emirates, Anfield, White Hart Lane, Goodison, Old Trafford and St James Park to be negotiated, handing the title to the Sky Blues might be just a little previous.
January will tell us much about whether Pellegrini has been successful in banishing the away day Blues, as three of City’s four fixtures are away from home – at Swansea, Newcastle and Tottenham. Come February, we’ll know a lot more about City’s title credentials.