2019/20 in Review – Manchester City
In a season where last season’s title rivals have gone through a mostly unopposed campaign, City have stalled in their progress. Taylor Murray takes a look at a season for the current champions in which they’ve had to play second fiddle.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – champions, centurions and record breakers. These awards and commendations have frequented the blue side of Manchester ever since the arrival of the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager. Pep has revamped English football, leading to a greater focus on tactics and with players using their brains as much as their feet, the whole league seems to have turned into Guardiola’s personal chess match – with more beer and pies. So long as Guardiola and City were partners, nothing could go wrong – right?
Enter, 2019/20 season. City were starting the season having won the domestic quadruple last year. They carried on their trophy haul by winning the Community Shield at the beginning of the season, before adding the Carabao Cup at the start of March. While silverware is always nice, for a team like City who have seen it all before, all that truly matters is performances in the league and in Europe and this season, their league performance has been lacklustre. While it seems odd to suggest that the team sitting in second place in the table have had a lacklustre season, when we know exactly what this team is capable of, it certainly comes across as a bit of a dip in form.
City have had to deal with a bit of a barebones squad this season with a number of recurring injury problems to key players such as Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Rodri and, of course, Leroy Sane, who has missed the entirety of the season after being injured in the Community Shield. While these injuries were spread out throughout the season, it meant that Guardiola was constantly tinkering and changing his plans (as us Fantasy players are all too aware of), making it a struggle for City to gather momentum. It became evident to football fans that City were stalling this season when they travelled to Carrow Road to face relegation certainties, Norwich City. When Teemu Pukki scored the Canaries’ third goal to win the game, collective jaws dropped as it became perhaps all to obvious that it would be a matter of securing a top four finish instead of the title for City this season.
City’s signings have come into question as well, alongside their recruitment policy. After losing one of the Premier League’s finest centre backs and captains in Vincent Kompany over the summer, it seems strange that the club didn’t move to replace him in the summer, instead choosing to buy even more full backs in Joao Cancelo and Angelino, with the latter beginning his third spell at the club. Rodri was a smart signing at the time, as he would be able to deputise under the ageing Fernandinho and solidify his position in the starting 11 next season. However, with Laporte and Stones both having injury problems, Fernandinho played most of the season in the back line with Rodri being flung in at the deep end and while he put in a number of decent performances throughout the season, he struggled to capture the recognition that Fernandinho had done in seasons prior.
In fairness, you could simply argue that Liverpool were simply too good this season, as they were on course to obliterate City’s record-breaking points tally, having only dropped points twice thus far. However, it’s not that simple. Liverpool being too good doesn’t help to explain the loss at Norwich, or the two losses against Wolves, for example. One way it could be seen is that Guardiola is starting to feel the pressure of having to maintain both domestic dominance and the search for continental success, which was amplified after they were banned from UEFA competitions for the next two seasons after breaching FFP rules. While City were looking decent in Europe, having lead their round of 16 tie against Real Madrid after a 2-1 victory in the first leg, there won’t be a chance for the Citizens to push on further in the competition due to the pandemic.
In my opinion, their league form can be explained due to the tunnel vision the club had when it came to European success, especially since this was the last season in which they would have the chance to win the Champions League. Throw in all the additional pressures of the board and the fan base, an unexplainably “poor” season suddenly has some explanation.
Player of the Season – Kevin de Bruyne
A number of players in City’s squad have had impressive individual seasons. Sergio Aguero has scored over 20 goals in all competitions for the sixth consecutive season, Riyad Mahrez has taken his somewhat limited chances to impress in Leroy Sane’s absence and Ederson has had some big games, with his outstanding performance against Crystal Palace springing to mind. However, there was only ever going to be one player winning this award.
Kevin de Bruyne may well be the best player in the Premier League and has certainly displayed why his name deserves to be in contention this season. While having been a revolution in City’s midfield ever since joining from Wolfsburg in 2015, this season he has gone above and beyond. Scoring eight goals and assisting 18 times (EIGHTEEN), KDB has averaged a goal contribution in every game he’s played (26) and was well on his way to breaking the assist record set by Thierry Henry (20) back in 2002/03. Without the Belgian in the midfield, City don’t look nearly as dangerous going forward. His performance in City’s 8-0 destruction of Watford comes to mind, with the Belgian picking up a goal and two assists while showcasing that his passing ability is unmatched. The former Chelsea man has the ability to pick out a teammate pretty much anywhere on the pitch, can bang them in from practically anywhere and pulls everything together for his team. If the Champions League ban is upheld and de Bruyne does leave, the City board will have a monumental task in replacing their midfield magician.
Young Player of the Season – Gabriel Jesus
The YPOTY award is typically tough to call for City, as they haven’t typically been known for using young players to their full effect – you only need to look at Phil Foden’s playing time to understand that. However, I believe Gabriel Jesus has done enough this season to warrant this season.
At 23 years old, he just makes it into the selection pool for this award. In a season where Aguero hasn’t been as readily available as in previous seasons, Jesus has deputised well, scoring 10 and assisting four in 24 appearances. While that doesn’t seem excellent considering the number of appearances, only 13 of those were full starts, with 11 of his appearances coming as a substitute. At 23, he still has a very high ceiling and is constantly learning from one of the most prolific goalscorers in Premier League history. Fans have seen flashes of his talent and are sure that he could be huge for City in a post-Aguero era.
Moment of the Season – Bouncing Back vs Watford
Having suffered a frankly humiliating defeat at the hands of Norwich, City fans were in despair at their team, their manager and their club. How was that even possible? With the outrage evident in everyone’s mind, City welcomed Watford with one thought on their mind – redemption.
It was an absolute bloodbath. City ripped through Watford like a hot knife through butter and, as mentioned earlier, Kevin de Bruyne was absolutely unplayable. City played as a unit and it payed off tremendously. Veteran midfielder David Silva showed that class is permanent with his vision and passing ability, while Mahrez lit up The Etihad with his silky skills and powerful runs towards the Watford backline. Overall, it was a perfect day for the Citizens and while it meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, it allowed fans to believe in their team once again.
Moment to Forget – The Carrow Road Calamity
It’s been mentioned so many times already, and while Adama Traore racing through the City defence to win the game for Wolves at the Etihad was disappointing, nothing personified the state of City’s season than the 3-2 loss to Norwich.
It was completely unprecedented that something like this could ever happen and gave neutral fans an absolutely incredible view into what the Premier League can offer. After being dubbed as the Mayor of Norwich after their Championship win last season, Kenny McLean gave the Canaries the lead in the first half, sending the home support into rapture and beginning the murmurings of “What if?” Young starlet Todd Cantwell doubled their lead shortly afterwards and the speculation was quickly looking like reality. However, as Aguero clawed one back just before half time, many expected City to come out flying in the second half and earn a hard-fought victory. No one could have expected that Teemu Pukki, the journeyman striker who would struggle to hit a barn door while at Celtic, would bang in Norwich’s third and extend their two goal cushion. City couldn’t match the desire and strength of Norwich for the remainder of the evening and although Rodri pulled one back just before full time, it was all in vain as Daniel Farke’s side pulled off a famous victory. While Norwich were jubilant, City were miserable. Simply put, this shouldn’t have happened. Unfortunately for the champions, this match would set the tone for the rest of their season.
Goal of the Season – Kevin de Bruyne vs Newcastle (A)
If any goal were to sum up this man’s season, this one does the job.
In a match that saw City drop more points in unusual fashion and that saw this strike almost equalled by Jonjo Shelvey’s equaliser, KDB takes yet another award for this glorious strike. Foden works it to Mendy down the left and the Frenchman crosses into the Newcastle box. Paul Dummett heads clear but sees his clearance fall to de Bruyne. The Belgian chests it down, letting it bounce before absolutely battering the ball with his laces, the shot rattling the underside of the crossbar as City’s lead was restored. Arms wide in celebration, he knows he’s scored an absolute beauty.