We are all lying to ourselves about Man City -LSB

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It is at this point in the Premier League season that fans of any rival to Manchester City start piling on the lies for themselves. Especially after watching City never really get out of second gear to see Everton down 2-0, and even more so in trying to ignore the symbolism in Erling Haaland’s second goal that killed it:

Manchester City vs Everton | PREMIER LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS | 2/10/2024 | NBC Sports

This is a player who does everything in his power to run with a Man City player, be level for a split second, and then be brushed off like he’s a crumb or two just for moment fell on Haaland’s lapel. Every Liverpool and Arsenal supporter could see themselves flying into Jarrad Branthwaite from Haaland as if he was trying to hold onto the bonnet at 60 MPH before Haaland and City pretty much did what they wanted. It was ever so.

But being a fan is rarely about accepting your lot, which means that the things fans try to convince themselves of begin to flow almost immediately. In no particular order, they are:

The streak: Both Arsenal and Liverpool fans will have already told themselves if they win every game from here they will win the title as they both have one game to go with City. Will one of them win 14 in a row from here? No, of course not. But it’s not statistically impossible, and you’ll grab any rock you can find. And hey, Liverpool get City at home and their record at Anfield isn’t that good. Gooners will tell themselves that they have already beaten City once, and deservedly so. What is another?

And then Arsenal fans will remember walking into Manchester towards the end of the season last year and getting pummeled. And the other two times Liverpool City ran close to the title, Guardiola got the result he needed against Liverpool in the second half of the season (one win in 2019, a draw in 2022). And a draw at Anfield will probably be enough. So it’s out.

The schedule: As pointed out in these pages a while ago, this was always the part of the schedule that City were going to cut through. Since the beginning of December, they have only played against one team that is in the top half of the table. And they needed a last-minute winner to beat Newcastle. They travel to Anfield, Tottenham Stadium and Brighton, with home games against United, Arsenal and Villa. It can’t be as easy as it has been for the past two months, right?

And then we all start charting it in our heads. “Well, City lost against Villa, but Villa are worse now, so there is a place where we can do better than them.” Or “They’ve already lost to Wolves and we’ve won there so…” and move on.

But then you realize a trip to Tottenham Stadium is a different thing for Arsenal than for City (whatever City’s record there). And a trip to Everton is different for Liverpool than for City. And perhaps Arsenal and Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford is to face a different United side than City faced early in the season. And then the math all falls apart.

Conclusions?: City still have a Champions League to defend! Which gives you hope for about six seconds until you remember that their Round of 16 opponent is Copenhagen, which won’t amount to much more than Wiffle Ball. And who else in Europe can run or even sweat with them? Madrid? Inter? Munich just got dunked by Leverkusen. Perhaps Arsenal are also their main rival in that competition.

Injuries? De Bruyne and Haaland have already missed big chunks. What more could anyone ask for?

Fatigue?: See the part about De Bruyne and Haaland already missing large chunks of the season.

Divine intervention?: Now you know you’re crazy. So even if Liverpool got a 3-1 win without playing well, and even if Arsenal beat West Ham away from home, we’re still lying to ourselves.

What else went on this weekend?

4. Looks like Villa is figured out

The best story in the first half of the season did not carry over to the second as Fortress Villa Park was punctured. First Villa were beaten by Chelsea in an FA Cup replay on Wednesday, then they gave away another game to Manchester United on Sunday.

Some of this is luck, or market correction, more to the point. A good part of Villa’s success before Christmas was just a bit of finishing, which doesn’t always add up. John McGinn and Leon Bailey both finished well above their heads, and it flattened out quite a bit, leaving all the scoring burden to Ollie Watkins. He has only two goals in his last seven as opposed to nine in his first 17. Villa produced 2.4 xG against United but scored just once, which is a pretty stark example of their finishing poof!

Defensively, although much was made of Villa’s high line, Chelsea and United were able, when needed, to shift Villa’s midfield four with big switches from a drop forward to a charging full-back at the other end to open them up. It may not be as big of a problem as Villa’s general sloppiness yesterday, but their high line must fall when a player is given the space to carry the ball against.

As for United’s “resurgence”, let’s continue. They needed another Scott McTominay buzzer to win again, and Villa had more than enough chances to get a real foot in United’s ass. They gave up three goals to Wolves, and based on what we saw this weekend, West Ham are doing their own version of Zombieland. Sure, the determination and belief to get late winners is something to build on, but it’s not structural.

At least we got Douglas Luiz’s celebration out of it:

3. Newcastle reverse the triangle

Newcastle seem to have found something by flipping their midfield triangle, with Bruno Guimaraes now the most advanced of the three instead of the deepest with Sean Longstaff and Lewis Miley supporting him. They’ve scored 10 goals in their last three games, although that doesn’t seem to have helped them much defensively. They certainly needed goals from elsewhere (Guimaraes had two against Forest) as both their centre-forwards, Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak, combined for one goal from open play in their last seven games.

2. Spurs are healthy again

Although they have been the constant entertainers, in every sense of the word, the headline of Tottenham’s season is that they are in the top four and their only regular starter who does not miss a large part of the time is Pedro Porro. Heung-min Son returned from doing all he could to save Jurgen Klinsmann’s job with Korea Republic at the Asian Cup to set it up in injury time:

It’s that easy, apparently.

Spurs will have a big say in the title race as they face City, Arsenal and Liverpool in late April and early May. Which gives them plenty of time to clinch fourth place over a slumping Villa side, who they play on March 10. On either side of that game, they have five games against teams in the bottom half. Play their cards right and that title chaser glove could be a free hit.

1. American fans have a lot to learn about ownership

Imagine listening to this from opposing fans and not being able to say a damn word.

No wonder most Hammers fans are gone at half-time.

Programming note: Next week off, so this diary of my descent into madness will return on the 26th. Toodle lesson!

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