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Monday, 12 April 2010

Go Fourth and Multiply

The term ‘kingmakers’ has been frequently used in the last couple of weeks, mainly in conjunction with the Liberal Democrats and Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs, having lost the FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth yesterday (and with it the chance to deny Ancelotti his first trophy with Chelsea) now play the Premier League’s current top three in quick succession. However, much like the Lib Dems, they may have relinquished the incentive to a side in blue who have enjoyed a week boasting a couple of very slick performances.

The noisy half of Manchester started an impressive eight-day spell with a 6-1 tonking of Burnley at Turf Moor, before following it up with yesterday’s 5-1 dismissal of a Birmingham shorn of Joe Hart. In their last three games, City have scored 14, conceded just two and find themselves four points ahead of Spurs, though the North London side have a game in hand. The two meet in the season’s penultimate fixture.

Could it in fact be City who are this season’s kingmakers? It’s a role they would relish, particularly if it involves delivering the knockout blow to United’s title hopes this coming weekend. The following week they travel to Arsenal, who, while buoyed by United’s stalemate with Bolton will have to consolidate against first Spurs and then Wigan before overcoming a City which will undoubtedly contain an invigorated Emmanuel Adebayor.

The Togo striker and Carlos Tevez have been irresistible recently. Add to their current form the intensity with which they have taken the fight to their former clubs in previous meetings this season and it seems that City could provide Mancini’s countryman at Stamford Bridge with a clear path to his first Premier League title long before Spurs travel to Old Trafford.

And what of Spurs? Their last Premier League result was a defeat on the road at Sunderland. A massive fixture at White Hart Lane on Wednesday looms as their players work to recover from a sapping Wembley pitch and the disappointment of losing a semi-final they were expected to win. A fully-rested Arsenal, injuries aside, are not ideal opponents for a team needing a fillip. The pressure to protect Aaron Lennon, but also to get him match fit as quickly as possible, will not lift Harry Redknapp’s mood or expression. The nagging fear that defeat in the FA Cup semi presages a similar stumbling at the final hurdle in the league will not easily be allayed. No doubt the squad’s meals will be under lock, key and 24-hour surveillance for the foreseeable future.

Both City and Spurs have huge roles to play as the season enters its final weeks, but City look best-equipped to decide not only the destiny of the title, but the destination of that final Champions League place. How the burgeoning team in blue would love to land a significant blow at the expense of the previously dominant team in red. Rob MacDonald

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