The curtain is about to fall on another campaign at the Etihad as Manchester City head into their final home game of the season against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday.
Since reaching the 40-point mark at the back end of February, the Baggies – who were just four points behind seventh-placed Everton at that point – have essentially downed tools and the players are mentally on the beach, as preparations appear to be well underway for their summer vacations.
Tony Pulis’s men have lost seven of their last 10 games and are now 24 points behind the Toffees, albeit still in eighth place. The dreadful run of form has seen the Black Country outfit pick up just five points from a possible 30 – identical to that of relegated Sunderland.
Key men Gareth McAuley and Matt Phillips are set to miss the trip to City through injury, but the Blues still need to be wary of the threat posed by former Tottenham winger Nacer Chadli and Salomon Rondon, who have 13 goals between them.
A third consecutive victory for Pep Guardiola’s side on Tuesday will see the Blues steal a march on Liverpool in this game of leapfrog for third place, and all-but secure a top four finish for the seventh season running.
City were run close by Leicester in Saturday’s early kick-off, but showed the sort of defensive resolve that has been lacking for large parts of the campaign to hold off a spirited comeback from the Foxes.
The omens heading into the West Brom game are relatively positive for the Blues, who haven’t been beaten in the league by the Baggies since December 2008 – Roman Bednar scored a dramatic late winner at the Hawthorns to seal a 2-1 victory for Tony Mowbray’s side.
It’s safe to say that Eastlands hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for West Brom. You have to venture back to February 2003 for the last time the Baggies left City with all three points, when Darren Moore scored the winning goal on their last visit to Maine Road.
The Blues have won 13 of the last 14 meetings with West Brom, the only blot on the copybook a 0-0 draw at the Hawthorns on Boxing Day 2011. There have been 45 goals in those encounters with City scoring 37 – hitting four on three occasions.
Earlier this season, Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan both scored twice as Guardiola’s side strolled to a 4-0 victory in the Midlands, and a similar result will be just the tonic on what is sure to be an emotional night at the Etihad.
City fans will have an opportunity to say a fond farewell to Pablo Zabaleta after the Blues’ legend announced that he will leave the club at the end of the campaign.
The Argentinian right-back has made over 300 appearances since arriving from Espanyol for a bargain £6.45m fee in 2008 and played an integral part as City claimed two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and two League Cups during his nine-year stay.
It’s not just Zabaleta who Blues supporters might be catching one last glimpse of, with Willy Caballero, Gael Clichy, Jesus Navas, Bacary Sagna and Yaya Toure all out of contract this summer.
However, there are reports that Toure will be offered a new deal and rumours that Clichy and Navas are set to put pen to paper on contract extensions.
And while none of the above may be as popular among the fans as Zabaleta, it must not be forgotten the role each individual has played in making City one of the best teams on the continent.
If ever there was a time for supporters to stay behind and applaud the team on their traditional end of season lap of honour, Tuesday night it is.
Written by Chris Wildgoose
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