Golden swansong to Manuel's second season
Automatic Champions League qualification secured, highest scorers and best goal difference in the division, five consecutive wins, a shoe-in for the Golden Boot Award and the Golden Glove within grasp... Manchester City are clearly a club in meltdown!
Yes, City have missed out this season on the trophies that really matter, but does anyone really believe that Sheikh Mansour is going to allow his quest for football’s Holy Grail to be slowed or sidetracked in any way, shape or form?
City may not have lived up to their proud ‘We’ll Fight Till The End’ terrace war cry often enough in 2014/15, but the Etihad outfit will be more combative than ever next season.
After hitting a patch as purple as their colours at Swansea, City are set to secure the Runners-up slot to Chelsea.
A final day win against Southampton would be six on the spin and, whilst in no way compensating for the disappointments since last August, it bodes well for what is to come.
Manuel Pellegrini has had an enormously challenging second year in English football – perversely – more so than in his debut season. The Chilean has had to contend with a lot both on and off the field, some of it in the public domain, some not.
Dressing room discontent caused by alleged extracurricular activities is rumoured to have had damaging ramifications on team morale, and with it a downturn in individual and collective performances.
How can any manager foresee such goings on and then be expected to somehow overcome all the fall out in mid-season?
Going out of the Champions League at the first knockout stage needs to be put into context when you consider the opponents were an all-conquering Barcelona side, now hot favourites to beat Juventus in next month’s final in Berlin.
With hindsight it was no disgrace losing 3-1 on aggregate, especially when considering the ‘what if’ element of Sergio Aguero’s penalty miss in the Nou Camp.
Changes in player personnel and with it, flexibility of formations, hold the key to City’s resurgence next season. The ethos of attacking football won’t change irrespective of who occupies the manager’s chair.
With season’s end less than a week away, it’d take a brave man to place his mortgage on the identity of City’s boss next season.
Will Manuel stay on for his third year or, will a game of bluff and counter bluff see Pep Guardiola engineer a move away from Munich?
Bayern’s repulsive City-hating Chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, insists he wants Pep to remain for years to come, despite four consecutive domestic defeats, including being knocked out of the German Cup in their own backyard.
How things are playing out behind the scenes in Bavaria is anyone’s guess, but the guessing game needs to be over pretty darn quickly from City’s perspective.
Pellegrini or Pep? It’s a straight choice between the two. If Germany’s calling remains the stronger for Guardiola – at least for the next 12 months – City should surely stick with Manuel.
He’s won the Premier League once and he can do it again.
The transfer merry-go-round is about to start and, if Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, finally gets his act together, City could fair better than their rivals this summer – a marked contrast with last year.
In a bitter sweet development for City, UEFA are proposing radical relaxations to their stringent Financial Fair Play farce.
Having hammered both City and PSG last year with costly and debilitating punishments, UEFA President, the poisonous prat Michel Platini, and his cohorts are running scared of legal challenges to the decidedly dodgy system.
Built on foundations of sand, FFP is unlikely to stand up to close scrutiny now it is under attack from pioneering Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont.
FFP requires clubs to ‘break even’ and prevents wealthy owners such as City’s Sheikh Mansour making additional money available, above and beyond a club’s conventional revenue streams.
A relaxation or removal of this clause would enable the Sheikh to invest still further, potentially giving City access to vast sums of money to rebuild and improve an underperforming team.
City were already set to benefit from the lifting of existing FFP sanctions imposed in 2014, thanks to the club’s excellent off-the-field financial performance, once again making them a major player in the transfer stakes.
Juventus’ Paul Pogba is a priority for City as they seek a replacement for the talismanic Yaya Toure. Yaya reminded everyone why he is such a talent with a brace of goals in City’s entertaining and nerve-shredding 4-2 win at the Liberty Stadium.
Just four days after a decidedly low key 32nd birthday, Yaya joined an elite quartet of City players to score 50 or more Premier League goals.
His departure – most likely to Inter Milan – is regrettable when he puts on a showing of this calibre but, as City have found to their cost this season, Toure has too often been found wanting when it comes to hard work.
James Milner is the polar opposite, never short on sheer effort, graft and determination.
Ever popular with the City fans, Jimmy seems set to move down the East Lancs Road next season to be lauded as ‘outstanding’ 47 zillion times, by his new manager at Liverpool.
His eighth goal of the campaign – City’s second on the day – was a brilliant example of breakaway play. A Swansea corner was converted to City’s advantage after a measured clearance by Lampard and sweet assist from Sergio Aguero.
Sadly, Super Frank is New York bound, and without all the pomp and ceremony accorded to Slippy G at Liverpool – a travesty of media hype.
Lamps – superior to Gerrard as a footballer and as an individual – has endeared himself to the City supporters in his solitary season in sky blue. Hopefully he receives a fitting send off against Southampton on Sunday.
Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic are wanted men – albeit not at the Etihad – and Samir Nasri has surely made his last appearance for City, when limping off at White Hart Lane after a two minute cameo as a wounded substitute.
Conversely Wilfried Bony is much in demand and will make a big impact in a resurgent City next season. The classy Ivorian and returning Swan, broke his away goals duck for the Sky Blues with a well taken fourth goal to cement the 4-2 victory.
The goal fest had been underpinned by an outstanding display at the other end of the pitch, with Joe Hart in fine form.
His acrobatic stop from a Federico Fernandez header was simply breathtaking – the Save of the Season by a country mile...unless of course you represent Match of the Day on the BBC – that’s Biased Bilious Cranks (the polite version).
Hart also produced brilliant saves from Dyer and Gomis as City’s defence was exposed by a fluid Swansea attack. Sigurdsson and Gomis both struck in the host's fine comeback, before City re-asserted their authority with a final two goal advantage.
Captain Vincent Kompany appeared as a late substitute to bolster the back line, in a season where City amassed 34 points on their travels – the same points haul as both Premier League winning campaigns of 2011/12 and 2013/14.
It makes the surrendering of the title to a less than outstanding Chelsea all the more galling.
The 12 points dropped at ‘Fortress’ Etihad in losses to Stoke and Arsenal and draws with Chelsea, Burnley and Hull have ultimately proved City’s undoing.
That might be too simplistic an interpretation, especially bearing in mind poor away showings at Liverpool, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Manure, but statistically it’s a harsh reality.
Whether all the truths behind City’s 2014/15 campaign will ever emerge remains to be seen.
‘If’ is the biggest word in so many ways, and if Pellegrini had been able to oversee a more harmonious dressing room who’s to say City wouldn’t still be champions of England?
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu