They are no longer merely jostling for a Champions League berth. Now, suddenly, Harry Redknapp is being touted as a genuine candidate to become the first Englishman in 20 years to steer a side to the English championship.
Even a fortnight ago it seemed a preposterous idea. Back then, City looked invincible. And even if they stuttered, it was only really United who had the wherewithal to put them under pressure. But since then the true condition of their pricey squad has been revealed.
Shorn, for different reasons, of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Vincent Kompany, City look not even half the team they are with them. The moment he was given his opponents' team sheet last Sunday, Alex Ferguson must have told his players they were in with a chance in the FA Cup. Whatever the extent of their wages, Samir Nasri is no Toure, and Adam Johnson no Silva.
After the suspension of Kompany, things grew dimmer. On Wednesday Roberto Mancini was obliged to send out his side against Liverpool without the current best central defender in the division.
Stefan Savic, his replacement, demonstrated quite why Kompany is so highly regarded at Eastlands. A man so far out of his depth he needed an aqualung. And that was playing against Andy Carroll, a centre forward whose first touch goes further than most of us go on our holidays.
Alongside him, the rest of the City team looked equally nervy and insecure. If it were not for the elasticity of Joe Hart, they might have lost by a wider margin than the odd goal.
United had faltered already with injury and suspension, plunging themselves into temporary crisis dressed up by observers as the end of an era. Now it appeared City too were not immune to a blip.
Which has opened the way for Spurs. The stats from White Hart Lane are impressive. Since Redknapp signed Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor at the end of the last transfer window, Tottenham are way out in front as the country's form team. If the season had started 1st September, they would be six points clear at the top of the table. The arrival of Parker and Adebayor has addressed the team's two central weaknesses, giving them a cohesion and coherence unseen in a generation.
Plus they have entertained. As Redknapp boasts, if you can't enjoy the sight of Gareth Bale with his ears pinned back belting down the wing, or Luka Modric caressing the ball, or Rafael van der Vaart bamboozling defenders, then you can't enjoy the game. Against Wolves tomorrow, his team will doubtless run rampant. Who is going to stop them? Karl Henry? Mick McCarthy's side represent precisely the kind of opposition a side wants when it is building momentum. Three points on a plate.
And yet the doubt will remain at the back of the Spurs-inclined mind. Since their improvement has come with the arrival of Parker and Adebayor, what happens when they succumb — as they will inevitably will — to injury? Will the side immediately revert back to the form which saw them spanked by the Mancs in their first two games?
True, Parker was absent from the game with Everton, his place adequately filled by the young prospect Jake Livermore. But, as Phil Jones has proven so conspicuously, young players go off the boil quicker than a unplugged kettle. A lengthy absence of the sort that has characterised Parker's career, and Livermore will struggle.
Then there is the fixture list. Spurs won't be playing Wolves every week as the season reaches its climax. Liverpool, City, United and Arsenal all have the opportunity to derail the Spurs bandwagon. And don't forget, City will inevitably recover. The return of Toure, Silva and Kompany will concentrate minds in east Manchester.
Still, after watching City twice expose unexpected frailty, Redknapp will be ever more convinced, as he would put it, "he has a chance".
It has been the pattern of the Premier League years that the title is a two-horse race. Spurs have unquestionably, as the year turns, introduced a new possibility. For that, if nothing else, we should all be grateful. Though Arsenal fans may see it differently.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sports & Recreation/Soccer