I think I’ve hit upon a sacred secret that might just cause Man City’s domestic campaign to unravel or at least fray a bit at the edges just enough to help us win the Prem for the first time in almost twenty years. It’s a secret so decisive, so dastardly, so devastating that I almost feel bad divulging it. Then again, it’s completely out of my control and already deployed, so why not spill the beans? Simply put, the powers that be should make Man City play matches every three or four days. Their history shows that they just can’t handle it. Maybe they’re jaded. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe… I won’t give voice to the third suspicion for fear or jinxing it. Trust me when I say that there’s just enough in this to breathe new life and confidence into our campaign just ahead of the run-in.
Let’s look at Man City’s record this season playing a second match three or four days after the first:
- followed a 6-0 drubbing of Nottingham Forest with a 1-1 draw away to Villa three days later.
- followed a 4-0 thrashing of Southampton away with a scoreless draw away to FC Copenhagen three days later and a 1-0 loss at Anfield five days after that.
- defeated Brighton 3-1 only to settle for a scoreless draw away to Dortmund three days later.
- defeated Chelsea 2-1 in the League Cup and then lost 1-2 at home to Brentford three days later.
- defeated Leeds 1-3 away and then drew 1-1 at home to Everton (pre-Dyche).
- thrashed Chelsea 4-0 and then lost away to Southampton 2-0 in the League Cup three days later and a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford three days after that.
- defeated us 1-3 only to lose 1-0 away to Tottenham three days later.
- defeated us (yes, again) 1-3 before suffering a 1-1 draw away to Nottingham Forest three days later and another 1-1 draw away to RB Leipzig three days after that.
That’s eight times—eight—that Man City, supposedly the deepest, most-experienced squad in all the land dating back to hallowed antiquity, has dropped points when playing a second match three days later. If their opponents in the second match were more impressive or intimidating, we could chalk off the result. However, look back at that list of second opponents: Aston Villa. FC Copenhagen. Brentford. Everton. Southampton. Nottingham Forest. In six of the eight occasions listed above, Man City were facing a vastly inferior opponent. Despite their depth, despite their experience, despite all of the other advantages they’ve had over their opponents, they’d dropped points.
April could be quite cruel.
Come April, after all, they’ll no longer be facing sides just happy to have qualified for Champions League play or domestic opponents calming assesing their prospects. They’ll be facing continental titans as well as domestic sides increasingly desperate to avoid relegation. They’ve drawn Bayern Munich, one of the favourties to win it all. The first leg is scheduled three days after a trip to face Southampton and four days ahead of hosting Leicester. Might Man City suffer one or even two misfortunes? Could they suffer nine separate misfortunes? But that will never happen. Three misfortunes? That’s possible. Seven misfortunes? There’s an outside chance. But nine misfortunes? I’d like to see that.
Sorry. Where was I? Ah, yes.
Their second leg comes just four days later and three ahead of their FA Cup tie with Sheffield United—that does us no good now, does it?—but it does force a rescheduling of their match against Brighton, making that two Prem ties to accomodate on an increasingly tight schedule. Even with that rescheduling, they’ll have to host us just four days after playing Sheffield United. It’s still April, in other words.
Should they advance to the Champions League semifinals, they’ll have to play on 9 May and 16 May squeezing in between Prem matches three or four days on either side. There’s still those rescheduled Prem matches against Brighton and West Ham to account for. In short, the fixtures will be coming fast and furious, and City’s track record suggests that they’ll probably drop more than a few points.
As much as I hate to resort to such banal, dull accounting. Trust me, I would much prefer to see us just barn-storming and swash-buckling our way to the title, destroying all those who stand before us much as we did to Crystal Palace at the weekend. For as much as I love this squad and this club, I do have to admit to looking over my shoulder like this. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position, after all. We are in control of our own destiny, but just barely. We have the tougher domestic run-in with trips to Anfield, the Etihad, and St. James’s Park.
There’s nothing wrong with checking a rival’s fixture list. We’re hardly nineteen or twenty points clear of Man City (as we are of other erstwhile rivals), after all. Even if we fall short of the ultimate prize this time through, think back to where we were at similar points in previous seasons.
We’ve come a long, long way since those dark days of finishing eighth or hoping and praying that we’d win a Europa League title. We’re on the brink of winning the Prem, a far-greater prize. It’s just out of reach, somewhere between a Siren’s song and the fruits and water that Tantalus craved. At a risk of extending the allusions to Greek myth just a little too far, it finally feels like we’re no longer Sisyphus.
It feels like we may just have a chance at putting all three of those allusions to rest. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll hold that trophy aloft…