2014 has come to an end and it’s been an eventful 12 months for City. Two trophies, progression yet again in Europe and things are taking shape off the pitch. We’re evolving not just as a team, but a club. More records have been broken, but the elusive 10 consecutive wins wasn’t to be had, as City threw away a two goal lead in the last game of the calendar year, at home to Burnley.
So much has happened since our last post in October, it seems like City took a dip in form and no-one could quite put their finger on how and why. Then, we managed to rally ourselves out of the slump, and have barely looked back since.
At times, it’s been a stop start campaign domestically, often tracking the peaks and troughs of a rollercoaster group stage in the Champions League.
Boxing Day marked the half way point in City’s top flight title defence including; twelve wins, three draws, and two defeats. The 37 goals don’t rival the amount City amassed at the same stage last year, but lagging just three points behind Chelsea who at one stage lead by eight is a measure of City’s determination to win back to back championships for the first time.
Liverpool were crowned champions back in March, and according to Bet Fred, Chelsea champions this November, having already paid out. Like last year, we’ll see who is top come May.
Facing a difficult group yet again in Europe, City’s form couldn’t be helped from spilling over in to the League with defeat in Munich at the death enough to shake confidence, that City yet again couldn’t rise to the challenge. An uninspiring display when Roma visited Manchester, the new team in an otherwise identical group to last year, meant City would have to defy the statisticians to qualify.
It’s been said many times before, injuries are part of the game, they happen to all teams. The absence of Yaya Toure against Bayern Munich was self inflicted, but to have the group go to the wire and win in Rome on match day six, without Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero leading the side and leading the line respectively, is a match that will go down in City history.
That and the comeback against Bayern were the results that kick started a season that was firmly on the decline.
Of the two results against Moscow – the first City were forced to play behind closed doors, punished for racism amongst CSKA fans in previous games, and it was farcical; equally due to the amateur refereeing we had to endure and CSKA fans smuggling themselves in to the ground. It lead City, and in particular Vincent Kompany to call in to question the integrity of UEFA and their commitment to tackling racism in the game, behind strangling supportive, structured investment from foreign ownership. Maintaining the financial status quo amongst the established elite still appears to rank higher than removing discrimination from the game.
The second saw City hit the self destruct button, two soft goals and two undisciplined midfield performances followed by two red cards from Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.
Sandwiched between those encounters was defeat away to West Ham, our exit from the League Cup, and a slender 1-0 derby win against an inconsistent United side that still hadn’t found form.
Since the defeat to Moscow at home, City have dropped just two points (away at QPR) and Sergio Aguero single handedly carried City back to form. Aguero’s lone rescue mission at Loftus Road, the springboard for a slender win over Swansea, created much needed momentum for our sixth competitive fixture against Bayern Munich in four years.
Of course, that victory was the true catalyst allowing us to compile a six game wining streak that’s reduced the deficit at the top of the league significantly. Within the run goals have come from all manner of unexpected sources with full backs Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta getting on the score sheet in the away trips to Southampton and Sunderland respectively.
In this recent spell City have looked more familiar, but stood the test of ten men behind the ball on occasion too, with recent wins over Leicester and Palace, both of which were clean sheets.
Where the new personnel are concerned, the impact of Fernando and Equaliam Mangala have been below par. The thought of another experienced head to partner Kompany and rotate with Martin Demichelis would have been much more reassuring. After Mangala held out on a move to City for so long, to both his and Porto’s benefit, he’s far from being one of our own just yet. Recent form suggests the corner is being turned, something that will be welcomed for City as Vincent Kompany continues to be plagued by injury (in the last two years he missed 25 competitive games).
Fernando has looked at times a hybrid of Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry, but too often more a cross between Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell. It’s highlighted the quality we already have in Fernandinho to do that role. We focused on Yaya Toure in previous pieces, stealing the show against Palace but ruining it against Moscow are further signs of his decline. Expect a different player to come back after the upcoming African Cup of Nations.
The longing for Frank Lampard to stay at the club for the duration has been testament to his contribution this season (Lampard is 3rd top scorer as it stands, with 6 goals). It only serves to highlight the underperformance of City’s central midfield contingent, only Yaya Toure has been amongst the goals more often.
Injuries to Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Samir Nasri should only heighten praise for Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and James Milner, three key players to City staying involved on virtually all fronts. The biggest concern at the moment is City’s crocked front line. It’s provided an opportunity for Jose Angel Pozo to feature in the Premier League as well as other players from City’s EDS (Angelino, Thierry Ambrose and George Glendon have been on the bench in recent weeks) but City crave an out and out attacking option still.
It’s too early to gauge how much damage the ‘loan’ of Alvaro Negredo will do to City’s chances in the second half of the season. Restrictions on spending and squad size will hinder City from signing a meaningful replacement to see out the season and help us take on Barcelona in February.
Off the field; Sheikh Mansour’s vision is definitively shaping up now. The City Football Academy is up and running, opened at the start of December with players both young and old in attendance, a focus on City’s future just as much as it’s heritage. The CFA lays a yardstick down, not just for the club, but for football, with facilities of it’s calibre unprecedented. It is a NASA level campus for footballing development.
It’s also been a calendar year with two sets of results released from the City Football Group. The 2012-13 season, which saw City crash out of Europe at the group stage for the second consecutive year and lose the FA Cup final to underdogs Wigan was concluded in an annual report released post Christmas, as opposed to the following seasons pre-festive publication.
It’s no mystery to understand why either – financially City are undeniably heading on the right direction.
The success of the first time is of course no breaking news story, but the City Football Group haven take the opportunity to showcase the Academy and lay plaudits at the feet of the Women’s team, achieving their own treble and the attacking footballing philosophy that has cascaded down the youth levels; City’s under 18’s scored 87 goals in 31 games last season.
Youth was and remains at the epicentre of the club, and the next 12-18 months should see the vision in mind when the takeover was complete become a reality. The hiccup of the UEFA financial fines are already wrapping chips at the various shops around the ground.
We still have the season to go, but we hope to expect a report as positive as this one, in even less than 12 months time.