City’s Quadruple Challenge gets less Credit than it merits, though it takes one slip for it to fail
Camelot fought a war on two fronts. That was in the Merlin series of the 2000s, which featured Colin Morgan, Katie McGrath and the handsome king with good hair that looked quite like the handsome guy with good hair in ABC’s Quantico. Anyway, the fight was brief, they ultimately faced one battle, but that short period in which they faced adversity from two ends drained much out of them. It’s hard to keep up.
Enter Manchester City, the Premier League’s Camelot, except they’re not quite loved as a community entity as they are an on-pitch footballing behemoth of deluxe swash and buckle; each win these days has the caveat of their sports-washing owners and their flouting of financial rules being pointe out (whether appropriate or not). In fact, the only thing they have akin to Camelot is that they are currently fighting on multiple fronts.
Three, actually, as they are chasing glory in the Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League, having already triumphed in the League Cup. A quadruple may be on. That’s unprecedented, gunning for all trophies on offer in the latter stages, but we haven’t really stressed how impressive it is really.
Yes, a team with City’s financial muscle and squad depth should challenge for everything on offer. But it’s much more than that. Keeping a challenge for everything on offer is as draining mentally as it is physically, no matter how lavish a club or quality-laden a squad is. City have had injuries to key personnel in this run, their best player last season, their best defender, and their most indispensable player have all missed periods this season, and they are still at the forefront of everything on offer.
Their comeback win at Swansea in the FA Cup a fortnight ago was proof of the mental strength they have, recovering from a 2-0 deficit at half-time to fire themselves to a Wembley semi-final. Yet that game in South Wales also offered a hint of how it could all disappear. Chasing a quadruple means there’s pressure in every game, there’s little room for error, and no match can be let slide. This is why a quadruple is an incredibly unprecedented and tasking feat.
Concentration levels has to be a maximum in this period, with Liverpool on their tails in the league – ahead of them, in fact, albeit having played a game more – while in the other two competitions, knockout games mean one slip, or one bad day, and it all goes to dust. City have lost games in the league this season, in which they’ve taken the lead and looked comfortable, but that luxury creates lapses in concentration that ultimately ends up costing them the games.
This is a habit manager Pep Guardiola has been trying to kick this season, as he began the season with the warning message that the players can’t be complacent, while he stressed, ahead of their league win at Bournemouth, that he wanted to see his players show their hunger for the title. And it seems to have worked, City have won every game since the end of January, including that penalty shoot-out triumph against Chelsea in the League Cup final.
They visit Fulham this weekend, as their quest resumes, and a side with the worst defence in the league shouldn’t be the most difficult of opponents to come up against. However, that’s the thing with the pursuit of glory City are in, there’s no margin to be complacent. Even the most easy-looking of opponents can’t be overlooked. This is the first of nine games that City will play in 30 days. The caveat that comes with gunning for success on all fronts. En guard, Camelot.
After an unbeaten run from December to mid-February indicated that Burnley were back to the primal self, and on the road to staving off relegation, four defeats on the bounce has the Clarets very much in the thick of trouble. Two points and a place above the final relegation spot, Sean Dyche’s side host Wolves this weekend, knowing another slip-up will do them no good.
Spurs eagerly await their return home, as they play their first league game at the New White Hart Lane against Crystal Palace in midweek. But before that, there’s the small matter of a trip to Anfield, to face leaders Liverpool, as they attempt to arrest their league slide, and maintain their hold on third spot, which continues to slip.
A home game against Huddersfield seems like the perfect opportunity for Crystal Palace to move closer to safety, but the Eagles’ home record has been far from sparkling. This game is one they really should win, though, and defeat for the visitors here means, if Southampton and Burnley win their games, Jan Siewert’s side will match the earliest relegation in the Premier League era.
A first game as permanent manager for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is at Old Trafford, as Manchester United host Watford. Whether or not the decision came at the best time is still up for debate, but two things are certain; Ole’s brought back the feel-good factor to the Theatre of Dreams, and they need a win here to keep up their top four challenge.
Brighton v Southampton
Leicester v Bournemouth
Manchester United v Watford
Liverpool v Tottenham
Cardiff v Chelsea
Crystal Palace v Huddersfield
Arsenal v Newcastle
Fulham v Manchester City
Burnley v Wolves
West Ham v Everton