Friday, 3 February 2012
How Do We Relieve The Pressure?
Only 4 different teams have won the Premier League title, and one of those has only done it once. Of the other 3, it is only Manchester United and Chelsea that have seemed likely contenders in recent years. That is not to say it has been a closed shop, a few other clubs have gone close only to fall at the final hurdle, hopefully we won't be joining those failures as the season turns the final corner and enters the final straight.
It is tough looking back now to know what the expectations of most City supporters were at the start of the season, I was looking for an improvement on the previous excellent year, that was my minimum expectation. Others talked of winning at least one trophy, some of making a good run for the Champions League, and a large proportion talked of winning the Premier League title. I don't think however, even the most positive City fan could have predicted the form we demonstrated at the start of the season, we laid waste to everyone we came up against, and away days at White Hart Lane, Ewood Park and Old Trafford demonstrated that we were more than capable of going all the way.
We began December undefeated, and although our neighbours had also only slipped up once they couldn't compete with the football that we were playing, the ease of which we dismantled them Old Trafford suggested that the title race could be over by the turn of the year, I even received a text from one of my closest friends, who just happens to support the team from Salford, congratulating me on winning the title. Now I expect that was just a knee jerk reaction to an unprecedented result, a result that as City fans we have had to deal with a few times over the years. Of course I replied calmly stating that nothing was won in October and that was how I felt, a marker was laid down, but only a fool would have thought we could continue in that fashion throughout the season.
The first defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the middle of December was a turning point. A good goal by Balo gave us the lead in the 2nd or 3rd minute as I remember, and for the first 30mins of that game we played the best football we had played all season and we should have been 3-0 up before the end of the 29th minute, Aguero missed a sitter and we had an absolute stone wall penalty turned down for the most obvious foul you could ever wish to see on maestro Silva. The match turned on its head in the second half and Chelsea ran out 2-1 winners. Since then we have continued to win, but the style and ease of those early season victories has diminished.
The problem as I see it, is that after the battering of United, expectations grew exponentially. Not only were we now expected to win the league, we were expected to do it easily. The media, City supporters, supporters of other clubs started saying things such as "If City don't win the league, i'd be astounded". The pressure of these expectations I believe has began to weigh heavy on not just the shoulders of the players but of the management as well.
Normal Mr Cool, Bobby has been suffering of late. He no longer comes off as the confident and affable man on the touchline, we've had imaginary card waving and various other outcries that we don't like to see. On the pitch as well things have slowed, the freedom that was demonstrated in those initial months has disappeared, and whilst league victories still come they are ground out as opposed to be obtained with ease and delight.
So, how do we overcome this pressure? Well quite simply we do it by winning games. No doubt some will say I am being overly negative, but I believe I have pointed out nothing but facts. We are still very much in the title race and we will be there of there abouts at the end of the campaign. I also believe we can get back to playing with that freedom that we demonstrated in the opening months of the campaign, our next 4 games looks like this: Fulham (home), Aston Villa (away), Blackburn Rovers (home), Bolton (home). In my mind that is 4 winnable games, especially the 3 at home where I fear no one. If we start to string wins together again, the pressure will be relieved and the belief will return.
The Premier League title is in our own hands and obviously with that there is a degree of pressure and that has clearly been weighing heavy on the players throughout January, but with a nice little run of fixtures and the return of Yaya in a couple of weeks there is no reason that we can't get back to where we were in the first 4 months of the season.
Some have suggested that City could go the same way as Newcastle in the 90s and crack up like Keegan did, or in more recent years implode like Liverpool did under Benitez. There are some differences, Newcastle and Liverpool blew far bigger leads than we have had, and that was their only shot really, as blues we know that if we don't do it this year, we will be coming back even stronger next time round, we aren't going anywhere, we are here to stay, and don't we just deserve it?