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Jack: Man City, the Premier League's likeable powerhouse

Kristian Jack, TSN
1/30/2014 12:44:06 AM
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The scoreline was a familiar one. Tottenham Hotspur 1, Manchester City 5.

Two seasons ago on the final Sunday in August of 2011, Roberto Mancini's Manchester City won by the same scoreline at White Hart Lane. Those who watched closely that day were blown away by the utter arrogance in attack a new-look City showed with the ball.

Those who weren't there paid no attention because, on the same afternoon, Manchester United thumped Arsenal 8-2 at Old Trafford and that was all anyone talked about the next day.

Hiding in the shadows of the Old Trafford storylines was arguably the finest performance Manchester City had produced in decades. Sure, a 6-1 win at United would follow, as would a title, but, under Mancini, City never again played as well as they did at Tottenham that day.

Since that afternoon at White Hart Lane, City have undergone some dramatic changes off the field, but you had to look hard for them on the field on Wednesday night.

Their latest victory came with eight of the same starting XI from that win over two years ago. In goal, Joe Hart remains and Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and, to a lesser extent, Gael Clichy remain regulars in defence.

David Silva and Yaya Toure, arguably two of the finest midfielders in the league, are just as important now as they were back then, joined by even better talent in Fernandinho and Jesus Navas. Samir Nasri, who played back in 2011 at Tottenham, is currently injured, but has played his best football for the club this season.

And up top, the deadly strike pairing of Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko, who got the five goals between them in 2011, had an opportunity to start together with the in-form Alvaro Negredo not fully fit.

But that is where the similarities end. The first 5-1 win gave us a rare glimpse of what City could become. The latest 5-1 win confirms they are finally what they hoped they could become back in 2011.

Nine months after their first 5-1 win at Tottenham, Manchester City were Premier League champions, however, this was not achieved the way many imagined after watching their clinical victories at Spurs and Manchester United. Far from it.

After blistering out of the blocks, like a 1500-metre runner in a marathon, City hit a wall hard midseason and struggled to get any offensive spark into their game. In 10 away games, from the end of November to the middle of April, City scored just five goals (only two from open play,) won two, drew three and lost five. Mancini's men had been worked out, as teams sat deeper, and City couldn't find the code to unlock them.

While City struggled, Mancini moaned, Mario Balotelli caused trouble on and off the field and Carlos Tevez played golf and sang karaoke after being sent home to Argentina after a bust-up with his manager.

A team that had gone from the threat of bankruptcy, in the wake of the Thaksin Shinawatra fiasco, to the top of the table in less than four years had no identity and gave neutrals many reasons to dislike them.

Fast forward to 2014 and Manchester City are back at the top of the Premier League. This time, however, there is no circus at the Etihad. Gone are the distractions and gone is their rigid, narrow and predictable attack. Large amounts of money continues to be spent on quality players but, despite that, gone also is the disdain towards them.

Football fans fueled by jealousy are taught to dislike the best and that came easy when the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho led teams featuring world class, high-maintenance divas like Cristiano Ronaldo, John Terry and Wayne Rooney to glory, but this current Manchester City presents a whole new set of challenges for haters.

This is a football club that is so easy to admire. It is true that the new Man City have yet to win anything, but it is also possible that they could sweep the domestic treble - Premier League, FA Cup and Capital One Cup - come May.

Past teams in such pursuit would be tormented at every ground of chants suggesting they would win nothing, but that's not happening with this City team. The way fans of English football have stared at the revolutions taking place at Barcelona and Bayern Munich is the way they currently look at the class and guile being produced by Manuel Pellegrini's men. While they should be angry and jealous at the money and success that has come their way, they are romanced by a style of breathtaking football so often unseen on English shores.

They watch and admire a true leader in Kompany, the guardian of a back line including a centre-half partner that everyone still feels is the club's major weakness. For most clubs, whether it be Martin Demichilis or Matija Nastasic, it would be their strength.

They'll watch in awe of Yaya Toure, a player no one in the sport is like, dominating the crucial midfield, where games are so often won and lost, with a ferocious combination of power, strength and football intelligence.

They'll watch "Space Invader" David Silva drift away from defenders better than anyone else in the league, moving in from the flanks and producing delicious passes to hungry strikers and rampaging full backs, who have added more gears under "the engineer"

And they'll watch the brilliance of Sergio Aguero, arguably the most talented player in the league, who can hold a ball up better than anyone and finish with both feet in such a deadly fashion.

It is a spine that cannot be challenged, in terms of talent through the middle, in the Premier League.

Navas, Negredo, Fernandinho, Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov are all having wonderful seasons and are more than just extras in this plot, drawn up by the brains of Chief Executive Officer, Ferran Soriano, and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain, formerly of Barcelona.

The Spanish duo knew when they took over that the club's identity had to be dictated by what they did on the field and not by what big personalities did with fireworks or golf clubs.Removing the likes of Tevez, Balotelli and Mancini was part one of the project.

Hiring a gentleman in Pellegrini, who wouldn't make himself bigger than the club, was part two of the project.

Getting their team to express themselves and play at a high level each week was part three. One hundred-and-fifteen goals in all competitions by the end of January suggests that this part has already been completed. An astonishing 85 goals in their last 23 matches in all competitions shows that even the most adventurous plans, drawn up by the Spaniards, can be matched.

The final part of the plan is the need to fill the space created in the club's trophy cabinet. On Monday, they meet Chelsea (You can catch action live on TSN2 at 3pm et/12pm pt) and start a 28-day journey where they will play Mourinho's men twice, Barcelona twice in the Champions League and travel to Wembley to play Sunderland in the Capital One Cup final.

By the end of it we will have a more clearer idea of what City can accomplish this season.

Already, however, we have a clearer idea of what City has become - a Premier League powerhouse gaining more and more admirers every week.




Golfer Taylor Pendrith is the highest ranked player on Canada's men's national team. The recent graduate of Kent State University is 18th on the world amateur rankings. More...

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