Manchester City-Norwich City Preview
The good news is Manchester City shook off their recent woes with a near-flawless demolition of Aston Villa last time out. The bad news is they likely need 10 more such performances in their remaining league matches just to have a chance to overtake Leicester City.
That quest starts Saturday at Carrow Road versus relegation-threatened Norwich City, and there's no guarantee of such an effort given Man City's road woes and a long-awaited Champions League breakthrough looming.
With a match in hand due to their League Cup title run, Manchester City (15-5-8) enter this weekend's match 10 points behind Leicester City and clinging to fourth place in the table - one point better than West Ham United and three ahead of archrivals Manchester United.
City wiped away a comprehensive 3-0 midweek thrashing at Anfield by Liverpool, whom they beat on penalties in the League Cup final, by thumping the last-place Villans 4-0 last Saturday and snapping a three-match losing streak in league play. Sergio Aguero bagged a brace in a 10-minute span of the second half, when City put on a dazzling 18-minute display in shredding Villa's defence for all four goals.
"We are going to be involved in the title race to the end," insisted manager Manuel Pellegrini to the team's official website. "The margin for error is very small but this team has the experience to win the title."
Even with Aguero's brilliant form - he has 15 goals in his last 14 league matches and is two shy of tying Frank Roberts for 10th on City's all-time scoring list with 130 - a 10-point gap with 10 matches remaining is quite daunting, and Pellegrini has yet to see his side deliver consistently on the road.
Too many times after their bright start have City played uninterested outside the Etihad, winning two of their last 10 (2-4-4) on the road with seven goals scored. That includes multigoal losses at White Hart Lane, the Britannia Stadium and Anfield to go with punchless 0-0 draws at Old Trafford, Villa Park and King Power Stadium.
While Pellegrini has publicly estimated 75 points can win the Premier League title, it also means City have the thinnest of razor-thin margins to prove him right.
Excluded from that number-crunching are Manchester City's Champions League aspirations. A long-sought first quarterfinal appearance in club history is there for the taking Tuesday, when they host Dynamo Kiev with a 3-1 aggregate lead after their first-leg victory in Ukraine last month.
Given the multiyear longing from ownership to fan base and every blue supporter in between to finally break through after group stage exits in 2012-13 and round of 16 eliminations the last two years, it may be hard for City to resist the temptations of looking ahead to what will be a watershed moment for the franchise.
Whether another looming midweek fixture leads Pellegrini to succumb to pressure and rest David Silva this weekend - the Spain midfielder is reportedly still dealing with ankle pain from the injury that kept him out seven weeks earlier in the year - remains unknown.
Aguero also raised some eyebrows this week, stating in a radio interview he will leave Manchester City after the 2018 World Cup for his original Argentine club Independiente - one year earlier than when his current contract expires. The star striker, though, insists he is focused on the task at hand while an exclusive spot in City's annals beckon.
"It would be a major achievement if I can enter the top 10," he told City's official website. "But I'd rather focus on my next goal rather than the ones I've scored so far and the ones I might score in the future."
And it very well could come against Norwich City (6-6-17), whom he has tormented throughout his Premier League career, netting six goals in as many matches. Aguero opened the scoring in City's 3-0 third-round FA Cup victory at Carrow Road on Jan. 9.
The Canaries are facing relegation for the second time in three years in large part due to their porous defence. Their 54 goals shipped are joint-second lowest with Sunderland, better than only Aston Villa, as they are locked in a three-team scrum with the Black Cats and Newcastle United to avoid the drop with the Villans.
Alex Neil's side have dropped three on the bounce and are winless in nine (0-1-8) after a 1-0 defeat at Swansea City last Saturday. Norwich City conceded just past the hour, and their dour run in league play has coincided with the last time they kept a clean sheet - a nine-match run in which they've yielded 22 goals.
Still, Neil remains adamant the Canaries can right themselves in time to stay in the top flight.
"The one thing we've got to do is believe," he told Norwich City TV. "We're still in the fight. What we can't do is feel sorry for ourselves and give up. We've got to roll our sleeves up and that's what we'll be doing.
"We're in every game, and we get opportunities to make the difference. It's just a case of taking those opportunities and making good decisions."
Man City took the reverse fixture 2-1 on Oct. 31, with Yaya Toure's penalty on 89 minutes securing the three points. They're unbeaten in seven (3-4-0) across all competitions at Carrow Road since a 2-1 defeat in 1993.