It’s not been an easy title defence for Manchester City this season. Right from day one, Chelsea have been setting the pace and City have had to do their best to stay in touch.
The Londoners currently have a five point lead over the defending champions and the two sides meet on January 31. One thing is for certain at present and that is, Manchester City simply cannot afford to lose at Stamford Bridge.
A five point gap is definitely something City can make up in the final months of the season. Eight points and an inferior goal difference is an altogether different story. So what can City do if they want to keep hold of the Premier League title?
They have already made one bold move into the transfer market by signing Wilfried Bony from Swansea City. When you make a new signing the hope is for them to make an immediate impact but that’s not going to be the case with Bony. He’s currently playing in Africa and won’t be back in time for the crunch game against Chelsea. You get the feeling City just wanted to sign him now before any of their rivals got hold of him during the summer.
Considering City have been without Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva for several games this season, being within five points of Chelsea isn’t that bad really. A lack of goals from Edin Dzeko (four this season compared to 16 last campaign) and mixed form from Yaya Toure are other problems City have had to encounter this time around.
Eliaquim Mangala has hardly justified his massive transfer fee either. The way City struggled to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League indicated to all that this side hasn’t progressed from the championship winning team of last year.
It’s in front of goal where City are a let-down compared to last season. In the 2013-14 campaign they hit more 100 goals, averaging 2.68 a game, this season that average is just 2.04. The problem is that no longer do they tend to go on a goal-scoring frenzy and occasionally let teams back into the game. They were 2-0 up at home to Burnley, and that would probably have ended in a 5-0 or 6-0 win last season. This time around it ended up 2-2 and two more costly points wasted.
The absence of Aguero recently and a total lack of an adequate replacement up front have seen just five points from the last four games coming into the crunch match at Chelsea.
One area where City has improved is in their away form. Last season they lost five away league games and so far this campaign have only been defeated by West Ham and have 24 points out of 33. Surprisingly it’s their home form that is threatening to end their title reign. Last season they only dropped points in two home games, this season four teams have already come away with points and two (Arsenal and Stoke) have beaten City on their own patch. Chelsea meanwhile have a 100% record after ten games at Stamford Bridge.
The remaining fixtures look kind for City at home with only Southampton of the current top seven to play. Away from home, though, they have to travel to Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs, all games in which they could easily drop points. Compared to that, the only rival Chelsea has to travel to is Arsenal.
If City can survive the Chelsea away game and they can get Bony and Aguero in the team and firing on all cylinders, then they could yet win the league. Titles don’t really get decided on one game at the end of January, but it might this season.