In years gone by, any team struggling for form used to love a trip to Manchester City. If there was an unexpected victory to be had for a side that couldn’t buy a win, you could almost guarantee it would be City that failed in the most spectacular way.
While that’s no longer the case — even as City have perhaps underperformed in the last couple of seasons, they’ve generally won the matches that any Champions League regular would consider their bread and butter — there is still some of that old “Typical City” mentality that dogs the fans.
It’ll take more than a few years of success to rid the supporters of those nagging doubts, and whenever a team from the bottom half of the table rocks up at the Etihad there’s still the idea that today might be the day the castle comes crumbling down. “Here we go again,” almost became a catchphrase in the stands.
In many ways, it’s probably a good thing that Swansea’s resurgence in the Premier League began earlier in January. Following their 4-0 drubbing by Arsenal, Paul Clement’s side appear to have turned a corner and have earned two unexpected wins on the bounce, 3-2 at Liverpool and 2-1 at home to Southampton.
Not so long ago, it would have been City that kick-started that purple patch. However, Pep Guardiola’s team are coming into some good form. In terms of results, seven wins in their last 10 games suggests any talk of a crisis at the club is premature and while the title is unlikely given Chelsea’s lead at the top of the table, City are right back in the mix for a place in the top four.
Second place is well within their sights after results on Tuesday and Wednesday — City were one of only two teams in the top half of the league to win, the other being 10th-placed Burnley. Guardiola’s side sit a point off Arsenal and Tottenham.
After being heavily criticised for their style of play, City have knuckled down in their last three games. A 4-0 defeat at Goodison Park probably flattered Everton, but there was no arguing who deserved to win — the visitors were far too open and didn’t use the ball well.
It’s been nothing of the sort since. Quick movement from players out of possession and smart passing has made City difficult to live with. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling have both been coming into their own in this system, and their lightning-quick pace combined with some creative genius has left defenders backpedalling.
Tottenham were very lucky to escape the battering they got at the Etihad with a 2-2 draw, while Crystal Palace and West Ham couldn’t cope with City’s speed of attack in Guardiola’s 3-0 and 4-0 victories.
An in-form Swansea might have been relishing a trip to the Etihad if City were still performing as they were in October and November. However, there’s no run of results the Welsh side could be on that would see them being overly confident given when Guardiola’s team have done in their last few games.
That Sergio Aguero could be more fired up to perform after being dropped on Wednesday is another encouraging thought for the home fans, though many will still be riding the crest of the Gabriel Jesus wave. It’s hard not to get excited by the Brazilian after an explosive introduction to English football. There’s no ruling out both of the strikers playing together, either.
Willy Caballero would be expected to continue in goal, too, after Guardiola seemingly lost patience with Claudio Bravo’s uncertainty behind his back four. While West Ham or Crystal Palace didn’t overly test the Argentinian, it’s difficult to argue that the defence hasn’t looked more settled with him between the sticks.
The idea behind bringing Bravo in was fine, but it just hasn’t worked and the starting position has to be Caballero’s to lose between now and the end of the campaign.
After a first half of the season that saw the club’s performances drop off significantly through the autumn months, City look like they’re beginning to kick on for the final 15 games.
Three clean sheets in the last five matches — despite awful defending at Everton — suggest there have been some improvements with the rearguard. Nine goals scored in the last three suggest problems converting chances aren’t as significant as they had been previously.
Swansea won’t be a pushover as they set their eyes on putting some distance between themselves and the relegation zone. Nevertheless, City’s recent displays make Sunday’s meeting fairly ominous for the visitors.
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