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EPL Musings - Toure fires City to brink of title

By prolifik on May 6th, 2012 in English Premier League Analysis 23 comments
EPL Musings - Toure fires City to brink of title
Decisive double - Yaya Toure
Toure tallies twice on Tyneside

Having edged last Monday’s Manchester derby, Roberto Mancini’s City side needed a victory at Newcastle on Sunday to complete a remarkable comeback and put them within a whisker of the Premier League title. It looked a tricky proposition; not only had the in-form Magpies won their last four home games without conceding, they also had their own ambitions of earning a Champions League berth to spur them on. The game began with the away side enjoying territorial dominance without creating too many clear-cut chances; Alan Pardew’s side gradually came into the match, with their front three of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, and Hatem Ben Arfa and ever-present threat on the break, but the onus remained very much on City to break them down and secure all three points. On the hour mark, Mancini made his first move in that direction, replacing the listless Samir Nasri with Nigel de Jong.  

Bringing on a defensive midfielder in place of an attacking one when one desperately needs a goal seems puzzling at face value, but Mancini’s thinking was clear. With his attacking players (David Silva aside) failing to fire, he decided to push Yaya Toure forward into the advanced midfield role from which he has produced some of his best moments for the club. The decision was vindicated within ten minutes as Toure exchanged passes with Sergio Aguero before curling a wonderful effort past Tim Krul from 25 yards. Predictably, the game opened up as the Geordies sought to restore parity, so it was no surprise when City wrapped up the points with an incisive counter-attack a minute from time, Toure sweeping home his second from Gael Clichy’s cutback.  

United go through motions to top Swans

With City’s win on Tyneside leaving the destination of the title in very little doubt, the atmosphere around Old Trafford was understandably subdued at Manchester United hosted Swansea. Barring an improbable victory for QPR at Eastlands next weekend, the Red Devils’ last remaining chance of retaining their title would have been to somehow claw back City’s massive goal difference advantage, which stood at ten at the start of the game. While Brendan Rodgers’ Swans have rarely been soundly beaten this season, thanks to a sound back line and a knack for retaining possession, they also had very little to play for having secured top-flight safety with surprising ease.  

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had no choice but to start the game on the attack – in stark contrast to their approach against City six days ago – but the lack of energy in the stands as replicated on the pitch as the hosts ground out a routine 2-0 win. Paul Scholes broke the deadlock with a clever backheel and Ashley Young doubled the advantage with a side-footed finish minutes before the interval, but their wastefulness in front of goal (Javier Hernandez was particularly culpable) and lack of real drive meant they ended the weekend in the same position in which they had started it: relying on another team to produce a miracle against the presumption champions.  

Sloppy Gunners unable to seal third place

For much of 2011/12, Arsenal fans were bracing themselves for the ignominy of finishing below North London rivals Tottenham for the first time in 17 years. A seven-game winning streak in February and March, coinciding with a stunning Spurs collapse, saw the Gunners surge past their neighbours and gain an apparent stranglehold on the third and final automatic Champions League place. With skipper Robin van Persie enduring a bit of a cold spell by his phenomenal standards, Arsene Wenger’s men had since loosened their grip somewhat, but were expected to tighten it following the visit of promoted Norwich, another side with only pride to play for after an excellent return to the top flight.  

Van Persie did find the net twice, but the while the 3-3 thriller that ensued spoke well for the professionalism of Paul Lambert’s Canaries, it also featured some of the defensive insecurity that plagued the Gunners’ poor start to the season. Yossi Benayoun gave them the lead after just 65 seconds, but Wes Hoolahan levelled matters just ten minutes later thanks to some woeful goalkeeping by Wojciech Szczesny. Grant Holt’s deflected strike gave the East Anglia outfit an unlikely lead heading into the break, but van Persie seemed to have rescued the hosts yet again with his quick-fire late double. Instead, the Arsenal defence was caught flat-footed as Steve Morison ran onto a lofted pass to drill an equaliser past Szczesny. Results elsewhere went the Gunners’ way to keep their destiny in their own hands, but a similarly sloppy display at West Brom next weekend will surely be punished equally severely.
By prolifik on May 6th, 2012 in English Premier League Analysis

EPL Musings - Toure fires City to brink of title
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