With Manchester United closing in on a 20th English championship title, Manchester City is discovering that not even investing more than $1-billion on players can guarantee success over a unified and settled squad. Man City had been predicted by many to win a first English league title since 1968 after its massive outlay on players. But the Abu Dhabi-owned club has lost a five-point lead to allow defending champion United to surge eight points clear with six rounds left.
“We have brought players in and it takes time for them to settle, coming from abroad or from other clubs, and gelling as a team,??? City winger James Milner said. “We have challenged this season and are still fighting until the end. As a team to move forwards, to keep improving, you have to work hard and be together for a number of years.???
United’s advantage could grow further after Wednesday, when it plays Wigan and City meets West Bromwich Albion. A successful title defence for United could even be clinched at City’s Etihad Stadium on April 30, completing a remarkable turnaround for the team after being beaten 6-1 in the October derby.
“It would be huge (winning the title) when you look at the spending power Manchester City have, the injuries we’ve had, the experience we’ve lost — Scholesy (Paul Scholes) for half the season, Edwin van der Sar, John O’Shea, Wes Brown,??? United midfielder Ryan Giggs said. “Then the challenge we faced bringing in a new goalkeeper — David de Gea came in for a lot of criticism early on but he’s worked hard and he’s showing terrific form at a key time — and the young talent we’ve blooded in, it would be a massive achievement.???
Giggs has been part of United’s 12 title-winning sides in the previous 19 seasons, while City has only starting becoming a credible challenger since the first injection of funds from Abu Dhabi’s royal family in 2008.
“United are obviously a strong side, but we knew that all season,??? Milner said. “For the last 20 years, they have got that knack of winning and know how to close out title races. This is the first year we have been up there as a group … learning is the biggest thing, of being in these positions.???
City also needs to learn about team unity, with the squad imploding of late after having made an electrifying start to the season. Carlos Tevez’s feud with the club after refusing to warm up during a Champions League match in September kept him out of the team for six months.
Manager Roberto Mancini has also had to deal with another troublesome striker, Mario Balotelli, whose conduct on and off the pitch has been a constant distraction. Mancini said the gifted-but-flawed Italian is likely to be sold in the off-season after he was sent off in Sunday’s loss at Arsenal.
The red card came after a second lunge on Bacary Sagna and, when considered with previous indiscretions, could lead to Balotelli being banned for nine matches by the English Football Association. But the aggravation caused by Balotelli and Tevez is not the only reason for City’s collapse.
“We have played well for the majority of the season but have come unstuck for whatever reason over the past few weeks, most of the time away from home,??? Milner said. “We have been very strong at home, but away have not got the results we want. It is about having that ruthlessness on the road which we can learn from.???
After beating City 1-0 on Sunday, Arsenal can strengthen its grip on third place with a victory at bottom-place Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday. The Gunners have a two-point advantage and a game in hand over Tottenham and Newcastle.
“We play for the battle for third place, which gives us direct qualification for the Champions League,??? Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen said. “That is very important for the club and is our main target at the moment. In some games we have shown a lot of quality and we can compete with everybody. You have to be consistent in the league and sometimes that’s not been the case for us, but we will try to do that better next year.???