Well, that’s that, then. Another season done and dusted. Another ten months of laughter, crying, delight, despair, anticipation, vomiting, nervousness, silly defeats, unexpected victories and invaluable points – doesn’t look such a bad point at The Emirates, now, does it, Robin? – has been and gone, and the time as come to reflect on the highs and lows. Except, I’m a Manchester City fan and, as far as lows have come this season, they’re pretty few and far between.
The highs, though, have been plentiful. Two of them stand out more than any, naturally: After all, I’m 23 years old and I was crowing on last season about how we shouldn’t be disappointed with that year and how it was our best ever season since I had been born. Well, bugger me with a toasting fork, but we’ve gone done blown that there season out of the water. Automatic Champions League qualification and lifting the FA Cup; ask most City fans at the start of the season and it presented a tough choice. Many would have accepted fourth position in the league and no trophy. So imagine how we’re all feeling to see third and have had two days out at Wembley, one of which resulted in the captain climbing the steps to the royal box as the winner of the competition.
The most vital thing for City was getting into the top four, especially having missed out narrowly last season. There was a delicious irony that it was the player who ensured City couldn’t finish fourth last season that ensured they would finish fourth or above this. The goal even came in virtually the same place on the same pitch in the same goal. And it had extra value to me, since it came from a low cross and the bloke behind me had been shouting all game that City should be “crossing it high” because “nothing ever comes of f****** low crosses”. Amused me, anyway.
Having secured that fourth place, City then travelled back to Wembley for the FA Cup final. I was actually more nervous about the final than the semi-final for one simple reason: I’m a pessimistic sod and so naturally assumed City would lose the semi-final, since United had more ‘big game’ experience and were the favourites (seemingly able to cope without Rooney better than City could cope without Tevez). So, I was pleasantly surprised when I was wrong. But City went into the final as favourites and if there’s any team that can cock it up and all that…
But City didn’t cock it up. In fact, they should have won by more, though I doubt many City fans were complaining about that at the final whistle. It’s been quite a long wait, after all. I used to think that success for the blues was similar the 53 bus; you’d wait forever and then end up walking home because it never bloody turned up. Turns out, it’s exactly like the 53 bus; it didn’t turn up yesterday or the day before or the day before that, but just as you set off walking, two of them arrive together.
So, what is it that has been the difference between City this season and City last season? Aside from the summer transfer kitty, because that’s clearly the easiest factor to congratulate, but you’d be a fool to think that Roberto Mancini has just bought good players and that’s why it’s worked. True, it’s been an important part of the success, but having the tools and using the tools to the best of their ability, getting them to work together and complement each other, are completely different things.
Take the City defence. The best performing back four, this season, has seen a centre-back pairing of Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany. Either side of them, Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards have been the outstanding full backs. Interestingly enough, three of these players were signed by Mark Hughes. All of them were available to Mark Hughes for a long time during his stewardship of the club, yet City’s defence was leakier than a colander in a rainstorm. Credit where it’s due, Hughes could certainly spot a player, but it needed Mancini to be able to make them play together: 29 clean sheets in all competitions speaks for itself.
And, while it’ll be no consolation to Birmingham this week, their points total is 11 lower than it was at the end of last season. They say a good goalkeeper is worth 12 points a season, and Joe Hart has been proving time and again between the sticks for City that he is well worthy of being England’s number one. And, thinking back to three of City’s most important games this season, Hart’s produced three very important saves: against Berbatov in the semi-final, against Pienaar in the Tottenham game, and against Jones in the final. It was pretty clear that it was going to be a good season from him when the opening day of the campaign finished Tottenham 0-0 Joe Hart, as he pulled off saves most goalkeepers only ever dream about.
But, the team defend as a unit. Hart himself won’t take the credit for the clean sheet record, simply for that reason. Roberto Mancini has gotten the defence performing as a unit, too, and not as a series of individuals. Kompany was rightly named as the player of the year after a season where he has constantly raised the bar in what is expected of him. Lescott is looking like the player Everton sold. Richards should be in the full England team after his second half of the season form. And Zabaleta has bled more for the cause than he has sweated, it seems.
Tevez has, of course, been an important part to City’s season. Without him, City would have struggled to score as many as they have done, yet for perhaps the most crucial time of the season, they were able to cope without him. Though difficult, they were able to show they weren’t totally reliant on the little Argentinean. That being said, should Tevez leave, he will definitely need replacing; very few strikers play the role that he does.
Then throw into the mix the creative force that has been Silva, who has had a near-perfect debut Premier League season. In fact, only a few more goals could have made it better. His vision, through passes, and general play have been a joy to behold and have elevated him almost immediately into the same bracket as Ali Benarbia or Gio Kinkladze for City fans.
Yaya Touré picked his moment to start weighing in with a few goals and the turning point for him was seemingly the club being knocked out of the Europa League. He was an ever-present in the team for months, despite the number of fixtures that were filling the list (thanks in no small part to unwanted replays against Leicester and Notts County). But once he had had that week’s rest, he was one of the first names on the team sheet. His powerful runs forward gave City an excellent breakaway option and two of his biggest goals ended up winning City the cup. Not a bad return on his investment, all told.
And, finally, with Arsenal handing out points to all and sundry towards the end of the season, and with City ending the campaign playing some of the best football they have done in the last three decades, it was in the blues’ own hands to finish third. Which they ended up doing with consummate ease. In fact, had the season ended in six weeks’ time, I’d quite fancy City to have overtaken Chelsea… Since the defeat against Liverpool, City have been playing like a team that had fully gelled together and were a force to be reckoned with. There was nearly no static on any of the frequencies between players.
All of that led City to their most successful season in my lifetime. Their highest ever Premier League finish. Their highest ever Premier League points tally. The first trophy in the cabinet in generations, poignantly in the same year that two club legends passed away. A victory parade. Perhaps one of the best managers and back room teams since Mercer-Allison. In fact, I’d go as far as saying this is probably the most secure a City manager has been in his job for decades.
But this isn’t normal for City. City should have hit a bad run of form and slipped out of the top four. City should have battered Stoke in the FA Cup final, but lost to an own goal that deflected off three players and the referee. City shouldn’t qualify for the Champions League through league position. Whisper it quietly, but this could be the end of Typical City.
Gone but not forgotten.
Though definitely not missed.