LONDON – Manchester City enters Christmas as the top team in England for the first time since 1929. Back then, City failed to stay the course. It had to wait until 1937 to win the title and until 1968 to do so again.
This time, another slip-up would be unacceptable — City's owners have made an expensive overhaul of the club over three years.
But City has displayed resilience since exiting the Champions League and losing for the first time this season with a defeat at Chelsea. It bounced back with successive Premier League wins to establish a two-point lead over Manchester United.
Ahead of Monday's match at West Bromwich Albion, City has scored 53 goals in 17 league matches — more than twice the total at this stage a year earlier.
"Last season we got a lot of uncalled-for negative publicity because the goals weren't flowing freely," City defender Joleon Lescott said. "But this year we have the belief and the confidence to score more goals."
"We did need to change and there is an air of confidence about us now," he added. "But it is controlled, you don't want it to be too arrogant. The main thing is to keep progressing and keep our feet on the ground."
It is two years since Roberto Mancini replaced Mark Hughes as City manager. Having already ended the club's 35-year trophy drought by capturing the FA Cup in May, the focus now is firmly on delivering the club's first league crown in more than 40 years.
"We need to win away games," Mancini said. "We have only one point from our last two."
Stumbling at West Brom could allow United to go top with a win over Wigan on Monday. The champions are maintaining the pressure on City despite a series of setbacks — Champions League elimination and a humiliating 6-1 loss against its neighbor.
"We have shown the resilience and determination," Alex Ferguson said Friday. "That says a lot about the character of the team. We lose games in normal seasons."
"This season we have lost games that have been dramatic and a bit more emphatic in the sense of the impact it had on our chances of winning trophies," he added. "These were bad results for us but the character of the team has rescued us each time."
The Manchester teams ended the week further ahead of their title rivals after Tottenham drew 1-1 with Chelsea in a game between third- and fourth-place clubs.
"At this point in time everyone thinks it is going to be a one-two for the city (of Manchester)," Ferguson said. "But things change. ... Lose a game in this league and all the rest get a pickup and start chasing harder."