Sport Soccer

Friday 23 March 2018

City judge title run-in to perfection

Vincent Kompany celebrates with the Premier League trophy following their match against West Ham United.
Vincent Kompany celebrates with the Premier League trophy following their match against West Ham United.
Samir Nasri of Manchester City celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mate Pablo Zabaleta.

Manchester City began the season as title favourites and have duly fulfilled expectations, but it was far from the stroll many anticipated.

Only in the closing weeks of the campaign did City finally take a firm grip of their destiny and power over the line to claim a second Barclays Premier League crown in three seasons.

It completed a captivating title race in which Arsenal, Chelsea and latterly Liverpool all staked strong claims for glory.

City's chance seemed to have gone when they lost at Anfield in April and then stumbled at home to Sunderland in their next game.

But when Liverpool themselves slipped up with the finishing line in sight, City's expensively assembled stars, hardened by their increasing familiarity with trophy pushes, made the most of the reprieve.

There may have been a touch of fortune involved but, given the strength of their squad and their recruitment last summer, City were always the better equipped to strike for home.

Indeed, had they not carelessly dropped points away at Cardiff, Aston Villa and Sunderland - all teams that had relegation concerns - early in the season, then the job would have been completed much earlier.

City certainly looked the team to beat when they thrashed Newcastle 4-0 in their opening game.

At a stroke came confirmation that the mood in the dressing room, following the stale end to the Roberto Mancini era the previous May, had been transformed by the arrival of new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Pellegrini had promised attacking football and when champions and rivals Manchester United were thrashed 4-1 at Etihad Stadium in September, it was apparent he had formidable weapons to implement his vision.

Norwich (7-0), Tottenham (6-0) and Arsenal (6-3) were also demolished at Eastlands and by the turn of the year, when talk of a quadruple began to surface, it did not seem implausible.

Perhaps inevitably that quest was to founder, although losing to Wigan - in a repeat of last season's final defeat - brought an unexpected end to the FA Cup challenge at the quarter-final stage.

There was no shame in losing to Barcelona in the Champions League, with progress having been made in reaching the knockout stages for the first time, while the Capital One Cup was delivered in March to add gloss to the season.

Credit for City's achievements must be shared around a hugely talented squad.

Up front Sergio Aguero was prolific before injuries curtailed him in the second half of the campaign. His partner Alvaro Negredo also found the net with regularity early on before fading, but Edin Dzeko picked up the baton and enhanced his reputation with some crucial goals in the run-in.

That trio of strikers all passed 20 goals for the season in all competitions, as did talismanic midfielder Yaya Toure.

Toure, revelling in the greater attacking freedom granted him by Pellegrini and facilitated by his brilliant new defensive midfield partner Fernandinho, rampaged through teams all season and proved he strikes a mean free-kick.

Playmakers David Silva and Samir Nasri also picked opponents apart with regularity while there was good support on the flanks from Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov.

There were question marks over the defence, with influential captain Vincent Kompany lacking a consistent centre-back partner until the error-prone Martin Demichelis belatedly started to find his feet. Goalkeeper Joe Hart also had to endure a spell out of the side after a loss of form.

Ultimately this did not matter in the final reckoning as the team broke through the 100 league goals barrier to chalk up enough points to vindicate Pellegrini's sometimes-criticised offensive approach.

Away from the action, Pellegrini's persona contrasted with the cocksure football his team played.

The Chilean brought a calming influence that unified the squad and further distanced the club from the controversial exposure Mancini's confrontational style occasionally brought them.

His lack of dynamism did not excite the journalists who covered the club but there was a feeling internally that he brought much-needed stability.

He put the club back on the trophy trail after a barren 2012-13 with a promise of more to follow, while the foundations for even greater success were being laid in terms of stadium expansion, a soon-to-open state-of-the-art academy complex and growing commerical activities.

By the end of the season a dark cloud was coming into view in the shape of UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations, which could have some negative implications for the future, but it could not detract from a compelling title success.

Online Editors

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