Written by: Amos Murphy
Euphoria, heartache, frustration and pride; all emotions synonymous with being a Manchester City fan but if being a blue is a constant roller coaster ride, then this season has been a high speed, rocket powered, breakneck version – consistently inconsistent.
A perfect start: first five matches, zero goals conceded, eleven scored. We were fresh, rejuvenated and played with desire – something that had eluded the performances of the 14/15 campaign. Our captain, our leader: Vincent Kompany looked in fine form and looked to be an early contender for the golden boot competition after netting twice in the first two games. The season looked promising.
However the tune soon changed and these great, committed, strong performances soon turned into lethargic and frustrating ones. A first defeat of the season at home to West Ham was swiftly followed by a spanking at Tottenham. After going five without conceding; six had rifled the back of the net in two games.
This seemed to have just been an early blip in city’s inevitable championship winning campaign though, or was it? The blues stacked up back to back victories (a fate that would take until April to achieve again) against Newcastle and Bournemouth and doubling the fledgling season’s goal tally in the process. Form seemed to have been found again.
Derby day. A stalemate draw against United somewhat sparked the beginning of the end for Manchester City’s title challenge. A clean sheet and stopping United’s progression wasn’t a bad result but it’s what followed in the next weeks and months.
Three more points would be taken against Norwich at home – but only just. An 89th minute penalty from Yaya Toure scraped a victory against a relegation ridden side and the desire which was on show in previous weeks had disappeared completely. Players looked disheartened and uninterested which proved to be a theme that would continue.
Another disappointing result away to Aston Villa followed where only a point could be taken off a team which managed one home win all season. This ‘performance’ couldn’t have been further away from the free flowing football displayed in the early stages of the season. Frustration grew.
Demoralising and crushing defeats to Liverpool (home), Stoke (away) and Arsenal (away) in exactly the space of a month had left our defence feeling battered, bruised and blemished. The absence of our captain fantastic through a reoccurring calf injuries left a gaping hole in the middle of defence which was exploited perfectly by the likes of Coutinhio, Arnautovic and Ozil.
A sheer lack or character was being displayed by the players however the season still didn’t look too bad. By the time the new year had rolled round city were three points off the top of the table, through to the last sixteen of the champions league and also in the semi-final of the capital one cup. So despite below par, average and bleak performances 2016 still proved to have a lot to play for.
January trickled along with the blues having an unbeaten month and along with staying in touch with high-flying Leicester, we’d also overcome Everton and booked a cup final date against Liverpool. A great start to the year in comparison to the tough December previous to this.
Then it happened.
February 1st 2016. Footballs most prized possession, Pep Guardiola is announced as manager for the 2016/17 season signalling a premature end to Manuel Pellegrini’s reign. Excitement flooded and despite the somewhat remarkable position City had found themselves in on the pitch, all the attention shifted to off it and to Pep.
The announcement came exactly six days before a pivotal match and arguably the most important of the season so far against top of the table Leicester City. Nobody knew (and still don’t know) how the foxes had achieved such a staggering league position but capitulation seemed imminent and a firm telling off by a big daddy of the premier league could be the beginning to their downfall. The opposite occurred.
It was a rout. Leicester City turned over Manchester City as if they were playing in an exhibition game against a local school team. City looked lost, bewildered and completely confused as to exactly why they were playing football or as if they’d fatuously set out with the mindset that because of the mid-week announcement the season was finished there and then. This match proved to be the lowest point of the season and the catalyst to a failed league campaign.
Two more league defeats followed to to Tottenham and Liverpool; teams that had torn apart city earlier in the season. The announcement of Pep now seemed a shocking decision as the players looked well and truly uninterested and all the media attention was focused on Pellegrini’s impending departure.
However, in typical Manchester City style, whilst we endured the worst run of form all season, the trophy cabinet had a new addition. Winning the capital one cup in between the aforementioned defeats, although not in the most attractive of styles only scraping on penalties meant that whatever happened from here on the season would not be as poor as it felt.
More small success followed as history was broken at the club. The blues had qualified for their first ever champions league quarter-final after a 3-1 aggregate win over tricky Ukrainian opposition, Dynamo Kyiv. This was new ground for the club and a (sort of) consistent campaign in Europe seemed to have been the only shining light from the season.
Inevitably the inconsistency in the league continued with a defeat at home to bitter rivals Manchester United. A performance which again angered a lot of supporters as not one player seemed committed to the cause and even though there was still a lot to play for in the league not one seemed to play with a desire to win.
A four goal thrashing of Bournemouth preceded one of the clubs biggest games ever; a champions league quarter-final against one of the dark horses to go onto win the trophy – Paris St. German.
A comprehensive two all draw away in Paris put city in good stead to progress further. One week later and the stakes were high; both teams needed to go through to satisfy the wealthy owners and justify their big spending. City triumphed with a bit of leeway too.
A Sergio Aguero missed penalty could’ve put the tie to bed early on but the Belgian prince: Kevin De Bruyne ensured city’s progression with a screamer from just outside the box. A champions league semi-final awaited; the galaticos of Real Madrid lay ahead.
Emphasise switched to the champions league? Wrong. City still weren’t certain of their place in the competition next season and with Real Madrid looming there was no possibility of resting players – we go again.
Three games before the first leg and seven points returned with turning over the champions, Chelsea 3-0 away from home the highlight. However when the arguably biggest game in the clubs history came round, it was evident efforts in the league had taken their toll.
A depleted and tiresome looking team scraped a home 0-0 draw, which on paper was an excellent result but in reality when the mighty Real Madrid had come for a draw and effectively were there for the taking as the absence of Ronaldo and Benzema left a huge hole in the attack we were unable to exploit it.
More of the same followed in the away leg. Manchester City, formally of the third tier of English football, had the chance to knock the most illustrious of the European heavyweights out of the champions league and it was an embarrassment.
The scoreline of 1-0 on aggregate maybe didn’t reflect the overall outcome of the game but it wasn’t as if Real Madrid were sublime. Over the two legs city only registered two shots on target. Two. This was the opportunity to establish ourselves amongst the best but in all honesty we bottled it.
However, still two cup finals remained.
Champions league qualification wasn’t secure, still. Arsenal at home and Swansea away; win both and the season isn’t as big a failure, lose and it is.
The Arsenal game was vital as Manchester United, with a game in hand would leapfrog whichever team stumbled. Truly a must win.
If there was ever a game which epitomised: this season, Pellegrini’s reign as manager or just being a city fan in general at times, it was this one – good, but not good enough. Spurts of high intensity, positive attacking play were swiftly followed by suicidal and kamikaze defending.
The game ended 2-2 and the season looked effectively over. All United had to do now was win they’re last two games and city would be condemned to Thursday night away days in Belarus and Romania.
Pellegrini bowed out of the Etihad to a half empty stadium; lack of respect from some fans? Maybe. Although the result twenty minutes before hand maybe didn’t help his case.
However, three seasons one champions league semi-final and three trophies to accompany that; this charming man took us to new heights and one to always be remembered despite the outcome of this season.
And then a miracle happened.
For an unquantifiable number of years, city fans have had to watch their bitter rivals smother glory in their faces and it seemed inevitable this would happen again and Manchester United looked as if they would take the final champions league spot with ease. How very wrong.
West Ham United turned over Manchester United meaning it was back in City’s hands. Scenes.
Final day of the season and a point would do it for city. The point is what we managed but only just – typical city once again.
On reflection, a champions league semi-final, champions league qualification and the league cup doesn’t seem like an awful season. Along with the acquisition of the worlds most sought after manager, was this really such a dreadful season?
In comparison to city’s such high standards, yes it was an awful season. The league was there for the taking and after an unbelievable start it looked inevitable we’d be champions. Also, whimpering out of the champions league left a bitter taste in many supporters mouths who questioned “what could have been?”.