x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Manchester City look to top Premier League chart

Whether they can push on to take the league title for only the third time in their history is another matter entirely.

Carlos Tevez, centre, is expected to be stripped of the Manchester City captaincy for tonight’s match.
Carlos Tevez, centre, is expected to be stripped of the Manchester City captaincy for tonight’s match.

For the first time in 81 years Manchester City are poised to be England's number one at Christmas but whether they can push on to take the league title for only the third time in their history is another matter entirely.

The freeze that wiped out the Chelsea versus Manchester United and Arsenal versus Stoke City matches this weekend could still account for City's home game against Everton tonight but everyone at the club will be doing all they can to get the fixture played given the reward at stake if they should win it.

United, with a game in hand, top the standings with 34 points, with Arsenal and City on 32 and Chelsea on 31.

The prospect of City leading the way at Christmas has sparked the club's various forums into life with fans already warming up their chants of "City, top of the league".

It is hardly surprising, as their acquaintance with the top four, let alone pole position, has been fleeting to say the least.

They finished fifth last season, their best since the last year of the old First Division in 1992, when they were also fifth.

They were fourth in 1978, second behind Liverpool in 1977 but you have to go all the way back to 1968 for the last time they won the title - their second after their 1937 success.

When it comes to being top at Christmas, City have to go right back to 1929, when the oft-quoted phrase "busy holiday programme" really meant something.

Having beaten Blackburn Rovers on December 21 that year, City beat Aston Villa away on Christmas Day. Then they played Villa again at Maine Road the next day, and lost.

City, like every other side, played six games in 15 days over the Christmas and New Year period, but a run of one win in eight after their Christmas Day victory effectively ended their hopes of a first league title and they eventually finished third, 13 points adrift of Sheffield Wednesday, the champions.

In the 18 completed seasons since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, the team at the top of the table on Christmas Day have gone on to take the title only seven times.

Norwich City, Aston Villa, Leeds United, Newcastle United (twice) and Liverpool (twice) have all had their eyes on the prize when unwrapping their presents only to come down with the Christmas decorations.

All the excitement is based on the assumption that City will beat Everton tonight, which is hardly a given as David Moyes's side have won on their last three visits to Eastlands. Yet the very fact that City are right in the title shake-up at the halfway point shows that the investment by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the club's owner, has turned them into serious title contenders.

Their key man remains their leading scorer Carlos Tevez, who is expected to play and appear before the City fans for the first time since handing in his transfer request. Last week, the Argentine striker asked to leave, a demand the club flatly refused and is likely to be stripped of the captaincy following a meeting with manager Roberto Mancini yesterday at the club's Carrington training ground.

Tevez's representatives subsequently cited a number of contradictory reasons for his desire to quit - ranging from fall outs with officials at the club, homesickness and, most recently, City's failure to qualify for the Champions League last season.

But City have told Tevez they expect him to honour the remaining three-and-a-half years of his contract and tonight will be a barometer of how the City fans have taken his decision.

A huge crowd favourite before his transfer request, Tevez has divided opinion among fans. Some are furious with him for what they consider his "greed and betrayal" while others are prepared to overlook virtually anything to end decades of trophy-free frustration.

Tevez's transfer request bares similarities to that of Wayne Rooney, his former strike partner at Manchester United, two months ago.

Rooney changed his mind and signed a new contract at Old Trafford three days later, but he is yet to be forgiven by all of United's fans, as evidenced by sporadic booing when he touches the ball at Old Trafford.

Tevez's importance to the City team is undeniable, having scored 10 goals this season, and his teammates certainly value his presence, with defender Micah Richards saying: "We need him in our team if we want to achieve what we want to achieve. He's our main man and our captain. Carlos is our special one."

* Reuters

Midnight, Abu Dhabi Sports 5