Elevating expectations brings perils, especially for a club who are no strangers to false dawns. Yet a change at the helm and a sequence of wins has served to catapult Manchester City into the most congested and unpredictable of title races.
The early indications are that City raised the bar and raised their own ambitions when appointing Roberto Mancini. A seven-point deficit may not be insurmountable for a club whose ambition was to finish in their current position, fourth. They are outsiders with optimism. It should be examined today. Mancini's first four matches, all victories, ensured he has made statistically the best start of any manager in City's history. However, they were against Stoke, Wolves, Middlesbrough and Blackburn.
Everton, whose unbeaten run of six league games includes draws with Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal, languish in the lower half of the table but are exerting an influence in the events at the summit. Having wrenched Joleon Lescott from Goodison Park in the summer, City have now supplanted them as the premier challengers to the established elite. It is not a case of cause and effect, however: Lescott, who will be absent today, is yet to display his Everton form in the lighter blue shirt of his new employers. City have been more frugal in his absence.
The centre of defence has been a thorny issue for City this season. Under Mancini, they have only sieved one goal in four games and the recalled Vincent Kompany is a beneficiary of the new regime. In assessing Mancini's management, which incorporates an attacking ethos welded to defensive ethic, he talked of a rigorousness in training and sound decision-making. "The most important thing is that he's been able to put over his ideas to the team quite quickly," said the Belgium international.
"We've tuned into his football philosophy. We do drills - we do a lot of drills - and work on tactical situations on a daily basis. There's a lot of emphasis on tactics and intelligent football, before power and pace. "Everything he has done has been proved to be the right decision. It's not an emphasis on defence. I believe that he pays a lot of attention to details and he makes it clear what he wants. Everybody on the pitch knows exactly what he has to do."
Plenty are responding to those instructions. Carlos Tevez has scored 11 goals in his last eight starts. Crowned the Premier League's player of the month for December, he is the early front-runner for January's award. Yet while the recruitment of Patrick Vieira, who could debut today if he recovers from a calf problem, resulted in headlines, as significant has been the revival of others' fortunes. Micah Richards, Martin Petrov and Javier Garrido are others who are appreciating the Italian's management.
Then there is the forgotten man. Known more for tireless industry than accurate finishing, Benjani had not started a league game for 13 months until Monday's match against Blackburn. Mancini's meritocracy brought a reward for a man who had impressed in training. It came at the expense of City's most mercurial performer. Goodison Park was the scene of Robinho's finest away performance in April's win. A repeat is unlikely. The Brazilian, yet to shed a reputation for failing to perform away from Eastlands, is a probable substitute today while Emmanuel Adebayor, on compassionate leave after the attack on the Togo bus in Angola, will not feature.
If, inevitably, the focus is on potential arrivals at the City of Manchester Stadium during the transfer window, one departure from Goodison Park will be finalised. Lucas Neill is set to join Galatasaray next week but should make a valedictory appearance in the Everton defence today. He and Johnny Heitinga frustrated Arsenal, who only drew courtesy of two deflections last week. Should City succeed where the Gunners failed, they will close to within a point of Arsene Wenger's side and satisfy their demanding manager.
Mancini said: "We want to be in that top four at the end of the season. We need to keep winning and to keep improving game after game." And so far, that is what they have done. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Everton v Manchester City, KO 9.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2