Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta keen to avoid repeat of last-gasp drama

By Tim Rich

On Merseyside they will dredge up all the old stories. How Bayern Munich printed travel information for the 1981 European Cup final before they blew the semi-final against Liverpool.

Of how Jean van der Velde, needing only a double bogie to win the Open at Carnoustie, found himself ankle deep in water.

They are likely to be straws in the wind. If Manchester City do not take a point at home to West Ham to secure the Premier League, they will join Van der Velde on the list of the biggest chokers in sport.

The message from the City dressing room in the wake of Wednesday night's 4-0 win over Aston Villa was uncompromising. The celebrations could wait until the final whistle on Sunday. The memories of Queens Park Rangers were altogether too fresh.

That match is depicted on photographs 20 feet high on the Etihad Stadium walls. Had Sergio Aguero not scored with the final kick of the season, that match and its images would have been buried into deepest recesses of the club. Nobody would ever have talked of it.

The image Andrea Pirlo painted of the Milan dressing room after they had squandered a 3-0 lead to Liverpool in the European Cup final would have been theirs. "Insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. I no longer felt like a footballer, and that was devastating enough," wrote Pirlo in his autobiography. "Worse, I no longer felt like a man."

Pablo Zabaleta knows how close Manchester City came to being infected with what Pirlo called 'Istanbul syndrome'. It is why he claimed the club could not relax, even now.

"Every single player knows we have done nothing yet," said the Argentine defender. "Most of our players have been here for more than two years so we have experienced that game against QPR and we don't want that again. The inspiration is that we know we are 90 minutes from another title."

West Ham, however, are slightly different from Queens Park Rangers. In May 2012, Mark Hughes's side came to Manchester knowing that if they lost and Bolton won, they would be relegated. City had to match Manchester United's result at Sunderland. Here, Manuel Pellegrini's side can afford to drop two points.

"We needed to score (on Wednesday) to calm the fans. When you are in that situation you can be a little nervous but the manager told us to keep moving the ball and we would get one chance to score – and that's how it was," said Zabaleta.

City probably only need one point but, until it arrives, they will dream on Merseyside about Van der Velde and all the other defeats snatched from the jaws of victory.

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