Well, it’s finally over. The best season for Manchester City in a generation. It was often stressful, archetypal roller-coaster ride, but it was undoubtedly a success. Few City fans could argue with what the team achieved.
The fact is that City were fairly consistent throughout the season. They entered the “Top Four” on September 19th after an away win at Wigan, and stayed there for the rest of the season. They were at their strongest at the death though, just as Spurs and Arsenal fell apart. This was new territory for City.
It was not a smooth ride though. Mancini was regularly criticised for his negative play, despite the team ending the season having scored more goals at home than “the great entertainers” Spurs, and having scored more away from home than them too. But there is much truth in the perception that the team has been built on its defence, as many great teams are (City aren’t great just yet of course). In the League, 33 league goals were conceded – the joint best record, and Joe Hart beat the club record for clean sheets whilst also picking up the Premiership Golden Glove award. Not bad considering it hasn’t been a completely settled defence, with Vincent Kompany’s partner changing mid-season, and difficulties present at left-back.
Much of the season showed varying levels of performances, and an over-reliance on Carlos Tevez up front. It was often mentioned that Mancini wanted a system where in the two overlapping full-backs bombing forward were an integral part, but he failed to get the personnel to do this on a regular basis. Mancini’s brief however is not just about accumulating points, right now. He wants to stamp his authority on the club, he wants discipline and a regimented style of play, and the right ethos throughout the squad, and it will take time. As the season developed, the improvements began to show.
Crucially too, City picked up 28 points away from home. The 2011 away record may look pretty shabby even with the late rally, but it is deceptive as many of the hardest away games occurred this year – Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United away, not forgetting City’s biggest bogey team of all, Everton.
Off The Field
As I will mention briefly later, the tabloids were hell-bent on creating crisis stories thorough out the season. City were never more than a week away from another training ground bust-up, or from news of players wanting Mancini out. Kolo Toure didn’t help matters by failing a drugs test, and nor did Carlos Tevez by asking to leave. It should be noted though that fans of every team think that the press is unfair to them. The fact is, individual journalists are. They write with prejudice, and sensationalize minor events. If proof is needed about the pathetically inaccurate stories throughout the season about a lack of team spirit at City, look no further than the dressing room “cam” after the FA Cup Final.
For much of the season, many fans were undecided on Mancini (a minority, hopefully), a fair few wanted him out, swayed by the press criticism and the notion that City should be winning every game. The rumours about hiring Jose Mourinho only intensified the feelings.
Winning the owner lottery like City did three years ago has actually been rather divisive amongst City fans. They do say that winning the lottery isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But after decades of mediocrity, you would imagine a certain level of patience for the money to weave its magic – but sadly, some expected the team to become world-beaters overnight.
Back on The Pitch: The Run-In
The basis of City’s success though can be found at the “business end” of the season. It could have been so different. City were competing on two fronts in April, but there were large barriers in front of them. After a tepid 3-0 defeat to Liverpool just five days before the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, there was a downbeat mood amongst many City fans. They faced the toughest of cup matches, and there was a possibility of losing their top 4 position, with Liverpool on the charge and Spurs always there or there-about.
In the end, there was no need to worry. United were beaten, Stoke too in the final. Spurs were beaten 1-0 to attain Champions League football, and as Arsenal imploded, City beat Stoke once more and Bolton to fast-track straight to the group stages. It was the only time all season City won four consecutive games, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Ah yes, the FA Cup. City had stumbled to the semi-final against modest opposition, but came of age at Wembley, twice. Thirty five years of hurt was over, and it was emotional. A reminder of why football fans do what they do – for days like this, for the friendships, the memories and the joy of being part of a large family that gets to experience days like that. It was almost worth the wait. A trophy is the start, the springboard to further success. That’s the theory anyway.
Player Of The Season
No doubt about it from the majority of fans – the immense Vincent Kompany. Brilliant on the field, a true ambassador off it, he was one of the Premiership players of the season. A bargain £6m purchase from Hamburg, he is a future City captain, and to be perfectly honest, should be already. This may seem harsh on Carlos Tevez, whose goal-scoring record was immense and who never stopped working on the pitch, but his off-pitch wranglings have irked a few, and what’s more, defenders are often overlooked, so it’s only fair they are recognised occasionally.
The fact is that there were 5 candidates for Player Of The Year – how times have changed.
Most Improved Player
Micah Richards. A year ago many fans were ready to give up on Richards, who seemed to spend longer in the gym than on the training pitch, but he has knuckled down this season and put in consistently good performances, though he isn’t the finished article just yet. Special mention also to Joleon Lescott, who has barely put a foot wrong in 2011.
Special Mentions To..
David Silva – look up the term man-crush. That’s what many City fans have for this player. Beautiful, creative attacking midfielder, the type of player everyone loves to watch. Just needs to sharpen up in front of goal, and accept the weather’s not going to get any better. But for his first season in England, City fans couldn’t really ask for more.
Nigel De Jong – After breaking Ben Arfa’s leg early in the season, one of the broadcasters said De Jong should be “drummed out of the game”. This drivel is to be expected from some of them, but by the end of the season, it was clear to all what an immense player he is. De Jong is surely one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, and the fact that City conceded twice as often when he was out of the team sums up his importance to the team. Brilliant season, and zero red cards.
Joe Hart – as already mentioned, a club record number of clean sheets and the Premiership Golden Glove award. This was a superb “coming-of-age” season for the Englishman, with hopefully a long and bright future ahead of him for club and country. He is not the finished article by any means, but at his age the world is his oyster, especially as he seems such a sensible and well-adjusted person.
Pablo Zabaletta – quite simply a legend. He will never be the greatest player in the world, but no one gives more on a football pitch than him. He never complains, and simply gets on with the job. An essential squad player who rarely lets the team down.
Under-performer Of The Season
Jerome Boateng has hardly set the world alight, but it was his debut season in England and he was badly hampered by injury. It was another debutant who disappointed most though, namely Aleksander Kolarov. A lack of pace and wayward distribution means a big improvement is needed next season. He too though missed months of the season due to injury.
Goal Of The Season
For the pure joy of the moment, either of Toure’s Wembley goals, but it was a Toure goal away to Fulham that wins it on skill for me – a clinical finish ending a 20-pass move. The first goal at home to Liverpool was not far behind.
Low Point Of The Season
At the time, the defeat to West Brom in the Carling Cup was highly disappointing, as it seemed City’s best chance of a trophy. The other low point was a consistent one throughout the season, namely the ever-present media pressure put on Mancini and some of the players. After spending that much money you would expect scrutiny, pressure and criticism, but some of the stuff written in newspapers this season has been nothing short of a disgrace.
Consolation prize goes to the day I had to leave an Arcade Fire gig early due to illness, at which point I learnt that Carlos Tevez had put in a transfer request.
Highlight of season
No contest. Full time in the FA Cup Final. The highlight of this millennium – 30 years of frustration released, the end of the drought, the first trophy of many for a City fan’s lifetime, and a few tears were shed.
Performance of The Season
FA Cup Semi-Final, 1-0 v Manchester United. Enough said.
A 4-1 away win to Fulham stands out too, as for 45 minutes (before easing off), City were on a different planet to their opponents. It was beautiful to watch.
Celebration Of The Season
The Poznan – some love it, a fair few have never taken to it; some opposition fans use it as stick to beat City fans with, but it has helped the atmosphere no end. The strange thing is that the atmosphere at City has often been at its best when the team was at it lowest ebb – be it in the 3rd tier of English football or 4-0 down at home to Arsenal. In English football, the big teams don’t often get the atmosphere to go with the high standard of football, and City’s hasn’t been the best in recent years. This season has been better, helped by the Poznan, the players on show and resurrecting the old humour that used to be the norm, best seen when cheering on the Brazilian player Alan in the Europa League. The Poznan has had its day, but it was fun while it lasted. And it will probably last through next season too, sadly.
Best defeat of the season
Well, it was a victory actually. Beating Dynamo Kiev 1-0 meant City exited the Europa League, 2-1 on aggregate. It may well have been the biggest blessing in disguise of recent years. City at that time look tired, very tired. Freed of the prospect of up to 5 more European games, the team regained its fitness and energy, and powered through the rest of the season. No fan can be happy to see their club exit a Cup, but this exit may have hurt less than most.
Best Away Fans
Poznan, not surprisingly. Europa League group games in half-empty stadiums can be miserable affairs, but Lech Poznan’s fans guaranteed a fun night. They didn’t even care about the match itself, and who could blame them?
A brilliant season. Objectives met, the first trophy for 35 years, Champions League football next season, and a whole collection of City heroes to worship. A summer of rabid transfer speculation awaits, and the countdown to what should be another exciting season. What more could you ask for? Well Tevez staying for starters (unlikely), and prudent strengthening of the squad would be ideal. Either way, next season should be very entertaining indeed.
Overall Rating For Season – 9/10
– Howard Hockin
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