In what proved to be Manuel Pellegrini’s final season in charge at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City’s season was one of highs and lows, as Capital One Cup success and progression to the final four of the UEFA Champions League were juxtaposed with a disappointing campaign in the Premier League.
We recall how that all came about…
After starting the season with a bang, winning their first five matches without conceding a goal, the first of five home defeats – against West Ham – followed at the end of September. Although that defeat to the Hammers went some way to illustrating that perhaps all wasn’t well within City’s squad.
A convincing win over Newcastle saw City top the table by the end of October, but as the season progressed more and more unconvincing performances followed and with that, further points were dropped in matches they were expected to win based on their early season form and the power of their squad.
By Christmas, City found themselves in third place and as much in a battle for the title as for a place in the Champions League, as the competition at the top of the table grew fiercer.
Despite defeats to Stoke and Arsenal, City went into February’s match against surprise leaders Leicester City knowing that a victory would see them jump to the top of the table once more. However, City were outclassed by the Foxes and with that, their realistic challenge for the Premier League title came to an end.
As their Premier League season started to fall apart, City’s focus, to an extent, shifted to the cup competitions. They faced a reinvigorated Liverpool team in the final of the Capital One Cup, where reserve goalkeeper Willy Caballero proved to be an unlikely hero in the penalty shoot-out that followed after the match finished level on 1-1.
In the Champions League, City advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time when they beat Dynamo Kyiv in the Round of 16. A victory over PSG saw them advance to the semi-finals of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time, where they met ten-time winners Real Madrid. That was as good as it got for City this time around, as another disappointing performance away from home followed when they suffered a 1-0 at the Bernabeu after the first leg finished goalless.
Back in the Premier League, Pellegrini’s side seemed to limp over the line and ultimately did just enough to secure fourth place with a draw over Swansea on the final day.
It is safe to say, City just didn’t perform in their big matches in the Premier League and most of their strong performances took place against the lesser sides. Liverpool and Spurs both did the double over them, while they only got one point against each of Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal. They performed admirably in the Champions League without ever really impressing, and weren’t particularly good in any of their domestic cup matches either despite going on to win silverware.
However, two matches stand out, the 4-1 defeat at home to Liverpool and the 3-1 defeat to Leicester. City were utterly outplayed by Liverpool and if one didn’t know better, you would never have been able to tell which of the two sides recently employed a new manager (it was, of course, Liverpool that had appointed Jurgen Klopp). The defeat to Leicester, though, is probably City’s stand-out performance, sadly for all the wrong reasons.
Three points on the day would have reaffirmed their status as favourites to win the title, and who knows, the belief they would have gotten from a win might have been enough to see them through. Ultimately exactly the opposite was true. A six-pointer if ever there was one.
It had become clear during the season that City had been drifting under Pellegrini and the manager’s performance certainly should come under question, although one has to feel somewhat sympathetic towards the Chilean. Wouldn’t you feel somewhat despondent if your replacement was announced publicly in the middle of the season?
Elsewhere, a certain amount of blame should be placed at the door of several of their senior players. Vincent Kompany has become more and more unreliable at the heart of the defense in part due to his unbelievable run of injuries, while Yaya Toure is only a shadow of the player that once terrorised opposing defenses – his lack of effort in the Bernabeu, for instance, was frankly laughable.
While it is easy to single out individual players, ultimately the majority of the squad was to blame for sub-par Premier League campaign, which was ultimately the biggest disappointment.
Sergio Aguero was once again City’s most reliable player since recovering from injury at the start of the new year and finished the season with 24 goals in the Premier League. That said, new signing Kevin de Bruyne was arguably City’s most consistently excellent player throughout the season.
The former Chelsea man went a long way in justifying the club’s decision to make him Britain’s second-most expensive footballer with 16 goals and a plethora of assists. Whilst Aguero makes a lot of chances for himself and is simply a lethal goal-scorer, the Belgian is really the player that made City tick.
Player to watch next season
It is easy to forget that De Bruyne is still only 24 years of age and if his level of this season is anything to go by, he has every chance of becoming the best player in the division in the near future. Also, expect big things from Raheem Sterling next time around. The former Liverpool man only showed glimpses of what he was capable of in a Sky Blue shirt, but he remains ridiculously talented and is another one who has the potential to become one of the world’s best. After settling in, next year might be Sterling’s year to properly announce himself.
That said, with Pep Guardiola coming, probably with a blank cheque book, it is difficult to predict who exactly will be the star men for City next time around.
Prediction for next season
Considering they have the man widely regarded as the best manager in the world at the moment, the feeling is anything less than a the Premier League title will be seen as a failure. Chances are, they may just win it as too.