If there was the slightest slither of doubt before, there probably isn’t any more. As much as some would like to wish it isn’t so, Manchester City glided to another comfortable win this afternoon against Newcastle United at The City of Manchester Stadium. It was a result which confirmed that Manchester United are going to have a hell of a job in keeping up with them – the gap this afternoon went from five points to eight, and then back to five again with United’s tepid win at Swansea City this evening – while Newcastle United’s run near the top of the Premier League table started to look more like a temporary position than it has been at any other point of the season so far. They have Manchester United and Chelsea to follow.
Everything about City’s performance this afternoon reeked of the opulence that was stated so starkly with the announcement yesterday of £197m losses accumulated over the last twelve months. From the soft shoe shuffle of Mario Balotelli’s penalty kick to open the lead to the desolation of Newcastle’s late consolation goal after they had spent so long knocking at the door of the Manchester City defence, only to be told that none shall pass, this was a performance that was everything that Manchester City haven’t been in recent years: confident to the point of arrogance, assertive yet disciplined, and never in any doubt of taking all three points back home with them.
What, one has to wonder, does an opposition team do in order to finish them off? They are playing football like a teenage gamer playing Pro Evolution Soccer on the easiest level in order to see how many goals he can score in one match. Manchester United are supposed to be the challengers, but we know what City did to them, and on their own patch. If they are struggling on the pitch at any point – and there was a point this afternoon when, although the match was lost, Newcastle were dominating possession to the point that Ben Arfa hit the post with an hour played, at a point during the match when a goal for the visitors might have made a difference – they can call upon a substitutes bench which contains players of such a quality that more or less any other Premier League club would give its left arm for. Amongst the names that couldn’t make their first eleven this afternoon were Kolo Toure, Edin Dzeko and David Silva.
And these are only the players that they have to call on in the case of an emergency. To that extent, perhaps this season is the season in which competition ends in the Premier League. For forty-odd minutes, it looked as if Newcastle United might be one of the few that would be able to make a game of things against them in the league this season so far. With time running out before half-time, though, the floodgates opened with Balotelli’s penalty and a second goal three minutes later from Micah Richards. Game over, yet again, by half-time. As such, the second half was largely an exhibition, an exercise in running down the clock and waiting for the next opportunity to torment.
With eighteen minutes left to play, they added a third goal, again from the penalty spot and this time scored by Sergio Aguero. By the time that Newcastle – who didn’t actually play that badly, but lacked the opportunity to create very much against a team that has been completely free-scoring this season over the entire season so far. Meanwhile, perhaps Alan Pardew had reckoned that the meanest defence in the Premier League would be able, if it attempted to pull the shutters down, that it would be able to keep them out with the minimal of damage and return back to Tyneside with a point and their dignity intact. It says something for the current imbalance of the Premier League that a 3-1 defeat can comfortably be considered a reasonable return in the preservation of said dignity.
All that money, though. Manchester City supporters presumably don’t even consider the option or possibility of the Abu Dhabi United group ever losing interest in their club, even though they have poured so much money into it already to never be able to realistically expect to make a profit on it forever. After, that teenage boy playing Pro Evolution Soccer on the easiest level: how many times does he keep playing before getting bored? And much as we can enjoy their football, purr at their sumptuous football and gaze in awe at the extent to which they are sweeping all before them at present, it remains tainted. We know the arguments that this is the only way that any other club could have challenged the established order. We’re not so stupid as to believe anything different. Our enjoyment is tempered, though: tempered by the knowledge of where it came from, by the uncertainty of where it may end up.
We don’t expect Manchester City supporters to care – after everything that their club has been put through over the last two decades or so, they may well just be enjoying the ride at the moment – but if football continues to be this uncompetitive, people will surely start to drift away from it. Manchester United have kept five clean sheets in a row since conceding six at home to them, but this evening they could only close the gap to five points in the table. Quite how those five points can be made up by Manchester United or anyone else is very much open to question, and only answer that springs immediately to mind is, “with enormous difficulty”. Welcome to the Premier League in 2011. Perhaps there is no competition any more.
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