THE BLOG

Manchester City Are Improving Rapidly and Barcelona Should Hold No Fears for Them

21/12/2014 21:08 GMT | Updated 20/02/2015 10:59 GMT

It's not always been pretty from Manchester City, but over the last month or so they've clawed their way back into contention in both the Premier League and Champions League and it looks like we might get to see Chelsea have to do some work after all.

Just a couple of weeks ago, all the talk was about whether Chelsea would go the whole season unbeaten and how they were going to absolutely walk the league and leave City trailing in their wake. Now, there's a real chance that City could sit top of the table at the turn of the New Year.

It's not exactly like all of the clouds have blown away from the City of Manchester Stadium - they need to find a second reliable goalscorer while Sergio Aguero's out, for a start - but there's a ray or two of hope for the first time this season.

The match that kick-started the forward momentum was that against Bayern Munich at the end of November. City were staring down the barrel of a Champions League exit, before fighting and scrapping their way back to an eventual 3-2 victory over the German champions thanks to a stunning Aguero hat-trick.

It wasn't pretty, but that was kind of the biggest positive. City have had trouble winning games they've played badly over the last six months or so (see also: West Ham, QPR) and as the old cliche goes - it's winning while you're playing badly that marks a team as champions.

The Munich game was the second match in their current seven-game winning spree, which has seen the team win at least three games that they might not have done earlier in the season. Away to Southampton, for example, they were just one goal ahead when they lost Eliaquim Mangala to a sending off. Instead of folding, the side rallied around Aguero and Yaya Toure and won the game 3-0, the first time all season that the Southampton defence gave up three goals in a game.

Toure continued to step up his game after a severely disappointing opening to the season and the reappearance of the marauding beast of seasons past will strike fear into the heart of opponents while kindling hope in even the most cynical of City fans.

Even above Toure's revival though, the triumph of December for Manuel Pellegrini will be his defence. Hit with injury after injury - they were forced to start Demichelis and Boyata together at centre-back at one point for crying out loud - they've leaked only one goal in their last five games, including tricky away trips to Roma and Southampton.

Sterner tests will come when Barcelona come knocking after the turn of the year, but City look like a team with more steel in them than the one that was dumped out of the Champions League by the Catalan club last season.

Last year, a one-dimensional City side were easily stifled by Gerardo Martino's side, while Messi and co picked apart their defence with ease at the other end. This year, not only does the defence look stronger, but the attack doesn't just centre around letting Yaya blast forward and hoping for the best.

There are goals in all of the side now, whether it's the surprisingly sprightly Frank Lampard or one of City's numerous other weapons, Pellegrini has crafted a team that centres around Aguero, but crucially, can succeed without him.

Indeed, if and when Barcelona spend most of their efforts stifling the Argentine, it will allow the likes of Navas, Nasri, Lampard and Toure a little more space to work with, which could well be all they need. Barca are the bookies' favourites for the tie by some margin, but they may have it wrong. City have had their slump, this is the resurgence. Is it time for them to finally explode onto the European stage? Don't bet against it.

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