That’s all Roberto Mancini is asking for.
Not even three figures worth of Premier League points. With Harry Redknapp’s England audition not going to plan and a P45 currently winging its way towards the Villas-Boas letterbox, the two powers of Cottonopolis will fight to the end for the league title and Mancini has set a target of 99 points for his players if they want to land the club’s first Premier League crown.
With City currently on 66 points and 11 games remaining in the season, it doesn’t take Carol Vorderman and an over-sized black marker to work out he’s asking for a flawless run-in. “I’m not good at mathematics,” he claimed – a point proven by the fact he thought for Samir Nasri for £25 million was a good idea – “but I know that if we get 99 we will be OK.” The generous lashings of added time and last minute goals United have got in the Ferguson era tells us they won’t give up right until the end and Mancini knows his team will have virtually no margin for error in the run-in.
This Sunday’s assignment takes City to Wales where they take on a Swansea team that have been roundly praised for not being the league’s tedious hoof merchants. Brendan Rodgers has been hailed has the latest hot young property of the managerial ranks and he feels so comfortable at the moment he had a quick-fire quip ready to go when asked about the possibility of taking over the Chelsea poison chalice hotseat. “I’m trying to build my career, not destroy it,” he Jack Dee-d, simultaneously giving everyone a laugh and ruining his chances of ever getting offered a job at Stamford Bridge or getting some cut-price Russian fossil fuels. Man City tore the Swans to shreds earlier in the season, but they’ll have a tricky afternoon of it at the Liberty Stadium.
At the same time Man Utd host West Brom. At the Hawthorns, David De Gea confirmed the knee-jerk suspicion that he was a dodgy keeper with a shaky performance, but since then he has thankfully grown at a faster rate than his patchy facial hair. His saves have been crucial during a period when United have stuttered, yet still done that very United thing of picking up most of their points. After getting turfed out of Anfield faster than you can say ‘Christian Poulsen??’, Roy Hodgson has bounced back remarkably well to turn the Baggies into a very useful outfit, but getting anything from the trip to Old Trafford might be asking too much. That said, Athletic Bilbao that there are some serious shortcomings in the United defence, so it can’t be totally dismissed either.
This version of United lacks the star quality of other versions, but they’ve got the ‘hanging in there’ aspect ingrained in the DNA. Will City actually need 99 points to claim the title? Possibly not, but to paraphrase the words of someone who knows about these things, we’re well and truly at squeaky sum time.