The time stamp of 93:20 is etched indelibly into Manchester City’s history – seared into the psyche of every City fan forever and a day – never to be erased.
Those four digits personify the most momentous single event of the Premier League era, but fast forward ten years from ‘Aguerooo’ and there’s another batch of numbers which will resonate long in the memory.
A combination of 75:11, 77:44 and 80:47 unlocked a scene of pending catastrophe, before transforming it into a cacophony of unbridled joy and ecstasy as City did what City do, albeit a decade apart.
Sergio Aguero’s title winner against QPR in 2012 cannot be surpassed – it just can’t, it’s not up for debate – but Ilkay Gundogan’s brace and Rodri’s perfectly placed equaliser to overhaul Aston Villa’s two goal advantage, came pretty damn close in 2022.
Grown men were once again reduced to tears just as they had been ten years beforehand, with even Pep Guardiola weeping joyfully at the final whistle. The fans had been here before. Perversely, this was Pep’s ‘Aguerooo’ equivalent. He’d won Premier League titles with hauls of 100 points, 98 points and here on 93 points, but never before from such a perilous position.
First he’d managed The Centurions in 2017/18. Then came The Fourmidables in 2018/19 – the only English team ever to win a domestic treble, or quad if you want to throw in the Community Shield. It’s a feat never accorded due recognition simply because it was City. Somehow, victory on May 22nd 2022 – to paraphrase a pretentious marketing slogan – meant more!
It was beyond the Merseyside media mafia’s moistest dreams to see Villa, managed by Steven Gerrard, helping Liverpool snatch the title, aided and abetted by a superbly executed Philippe Coutinho strike at the Etihad.
Déjà vu and the spectre of ‘Typical City’ were collaborating in the stuff of nightmares for Guardiola and City. Matt Cash headed Villa into the lead before the ex-Liverpool playmaker – freshly signed from Barcelona – made it 2-0 in the 69th minute.
The inevitable comparisons with QPR’s goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie gate-crashed the thought processes of City fans who’d witnessed the last day dramatics of 2012. This time it was worse. City had to score three times – not just twice – to somehow wrestle back their title destiny.
Wolves offered an unlikely lifeline as they continued to hold Liverpool 1-1 at Anfield, but very few in sky blue believed they could stand firm for the full 90+ minutes.
Pep hadn’t called it right with a starting XI featuring the departing 37-year old Fernandinho at centre back. He made good on it with three second half substitutions which transformed City’s fortunes, delivering a fourth Premier League title in five seasons for the Catalan genius.
Oleks Zinchenko – aka ‘Little Kev’ – played the finest 45 minutes of his City career, bringing balance down the left flank, complete with an assist for Rodri’s equaliser. Raheem Sterling replaced the largely ineffective Riyad Mahrez, sparking the comeback with right wing wizardry and a delicious cross for Gundogan’s bullet headed strike at the back post.
The subject of media transfer speculation in the run up to the season finale, ‘Silky Ilkay’ was the hero of the day with two goals in five minutes. Gundo set the gold standard after Silva was subbed.
His innate capacity for being in the right place at the right time drew warm praise from Pep after the final whistle and, lest there be any doubt about what represents the right place for Gundo next season, it has to be the Etihad.
He’ll be 32-years old in October and in the last year of his contract, but any premature departure makes no sense. Better for all concerned that he stays until summer 2023 and both Ilkay and the club assess the situation.
Gundo’s tap-in winner from a Kevin De Bruyne assist, rounded off a 331-second goal blitz which ultimately ensured City retained their Premier League crown.
Compare and contrast that timeframe with the 330-minutes played by Jurgen Klopp’s ‘mentality monster media darlings’, and his team’s failure to score in open play during the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League finals.
Yes, trophies are won in penalty shootouts, but it hardly qualifies the winners to be labelled the ‘Greatest English Team of All-time’.
Fair to say football is indeed a funny old game.
For the past two Premier League winning campaigns Pep has deployed a false No 9 formation with no conventional striker. It didn’t stop the goals flowing.
Gundogan’s winner was the 99th in the PL and City’s 150th in all competitions, making them the highest scorers across Europe’s top five leagues. Liverpool hit 147, Bayern Munich 143, Chelsea 122, Real Madrid 119 (sadly six came against City, but thankfully one was against Liverpool) and PSG – Mbappe, Messi, Neymar et al chipping in with 112.
So if it ain’t broke do you need to fix it?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes’, with the pending arrivals of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez for a combined transfer fee of circa £67m.
To put that into context that’s £30.5m less than Chelsea splashed out to sign Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan, and £6m shy of what Manchester United paid Borussia Dortmund for Jadon Sancho last summer.
City are no different from any club who have designs on the game’s highest honours – they spend when necessary, but under Guardiola especially, they spend wisely.
Of course there are ignoramuses who choose to ignore the achievements of the City Football Academy and the fact they have produced champions and cup winners across a multitude of age ranges this season namely; PL2, U18s, U17s & U16s.
Phil Foden is far from being the only truly home-grown graduate. Cole Palmer is destined to be the next ‘star’ to step up and there’s all manner of reasons to believe the likes of James McAtee, Conrad Egan-Riley, Luke Mbete, Samuel Edozie, Oscar Bobb, Liam Delap, Kayky, Romeo Lavia and Joshua Wilson-Esbrand could all make positive first team contributions next season.
The Qatar World Cup will make 2022/23 a season like no other, with FIFA’s corrupt showpiece going ahead in November and December. The strength and depth of PL squads will be tested like never before.
It’s well documented that Guardiola prefers working with a comparatively small nucleus of players – usually 17 to 18 – rather than taking full advantage of a 25-man senior squad, but the extraordinary demands of next season could see that change.
This summer could see higher than usual levels of transfer activity at the Etihad with Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus – along with Gundogan – entering the final year on their contracts. It’s virtually inevitable one or more will leave, be it at the players or the club’s behest.
Sterling has the most PL appearances under Pep (194), Fernandinho (165), Jesus (159) and Gundogan (157) – so there’s the potential for a glut of talent and experience to all go at once.
Despite his detractors, Sterling is City’s top PL scorer under Pep with 85, three more than Aguero, with Jesus next best on 58. And who’d have thought Mahrez would finish as this season’s leading marksman with 24 in all competitions? Could this transfer window be one of comparative revolution rather than evolution?
Speculation on prospective incomings is rife. Kalvin Phillips of Leeds is widely tipped as a replacement for Fernandinho, with Matheus Nunes, Sporting Lisbon’s promising Brazilian-born Portuguese international midfielder, also on the radar.
Brighton’s Marc Cucurella is viewed as a viable conventional left back option. The naturally right-footed Joao Cancelo has excelled on the left flank, and converted midfielder, Oleks Zinchenko has performed manfully when called upon, but for far too long it’s been perceived as City’s primary defensive weakness.
That said, Cancelo has been outstanding for long periods in a stellar season and ‘Little Kev’ has captured the hearts of many, as he wrestles with the emotional turmoil of the horrors being inflicted upon his Ukrainian homeland.
Irrespective of the outcome of Benjamin Mendy’s upcoming court case, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll play for City again, if only on sporting grounds alone. His injuries have meant he’s nothing like the player he was when signed from Monaco. The French full back is one of the few acquisitions that haven’t worked out during Pep’s reign.
Ferran Soriano, City’s CEO, has recently been quoted saying he wants Pep to remain at the Etihad for the rest of his career. There’s few, if any, dissenting voices in sky blue. A contract extension beyond 2023 is almost a given – you’d have to believe part of City’s attraction for Haaland was to work with, and develop under, Pep.
His achievements and statistics in the Premier League are nothing short of astonishing. He has the best points-per-game record of any manager who’s taken charge of 100+ games, at a rate of 2.35 per match. His win percentage is 74.12% with 169 victories in 228 games. His teams have amassed 536 points, scoring 565 goals (also hitting the ‘woodwork’ 135 times) and conceding just 182 (but also registering 107 clean sheets) in the process.
Unsurprisingly City had the highest average possession per game at 68% in 2021/22 of any team. Much more of an eye opener was City’s set-piece domination. Excluding penalties (something of a sore point at times) City scored 22 times from corners and free kicks – the best in the PL. City also topped the table for goals conceded from set-play – just one in 38 games.
Having won four out of five of the last Premier League titles, City are undoubtedly the dominant force in English football but Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, along with Pep, Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain know there is more – so much more – still to achieve.
Speaking in his now traditional end of season address, Khaldoon acknowledged the intense rivalry with Liverpool, where both teams have raised the bar ever higher. He said: “We’ve made each other better in an era where the quality of the league is the best in the world and continuously improving.
“We won the league on the Sunday, but within hours the conversation was about next season and how we can improve the team. Whilst our mindset was celebratory, we immediately flicked to the next page and how to stay competitive, improve and strengthen the team?”
Khaldoon waxed lyrical about the capture of both Haaland and Alvarez and promised more signings before the big kick off in August.
Time waits for no man and Manchester City aren’t wasting time in continuing to create the best of times for City fans, whether it be 93:20, 75:11, 77:44 or 80:47.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu