Blue Moon Waxes then Wanes: Season review 2016-2017

When I was a kid, you'd be crazy for even thinking City could finish the footy season above Liverpool, Arsenal and United. These days, it only gets you third place!

If you had told me ten years ago, that the ever-faithful City half of Manchester (well, two-thirds, if not three-quarters) would be somewhat disgruntled at a season of football which culminated in finishing third in the league, last sixteen in Europe, and a semi-final in the FA Cup, well, in fairness you could have been forgiven for calling for the men in white coats.

But that is exactly what has happened this season. Just how??

'Tis mad Ted.

Well, aside from the move to the new stadium from Maine Road, considerable backing from the Abu Dhabi United Group, and the recruitment of excellent players and coaches, it is worth mentioning that it still takes a bit of magic, a bit of luck, out on the pitch. And of course, referees with the courage to make the right calls.

Since the monopoly of the so-called "Big Four" had been in effect for over a decade, it was always going to take a lot of spending money, to break up the dominance of the usual suspects and challenge for honours. Yet in 2011 this was finally achieved, with City winning the FA Cup at Wembley, a trophyless wait of 35 years since winning the League Cup at Wembley in 1976.

And before a league and cup double under Manuel Pellegrini, in his first season as a manger in England, in 2014, who can forget the heroics of 2012, and the last minute drama which unfolded against former manager Mark Hughes and his Q.P.R. team and THAT moment where Sergio Aguero sent Mancini, Kiddo, and us mere mortals of Blue Manchester into raptures, when he came up with THAT goal, etching his name into Premier League folklore?

A first title in 44 years, since the team of Bell, Lee, Book and Summerbee, who triumphed in 1968, and a feat which will not only be unparalled for drama,  but one which literally left grown men crying openly in public, reduced to tears, in the knowledge that after much suffering, including the humiliation of the 'neighbour' club whose supporters forgot that City helped them in dire times, and mocked us with a banner which was endorsed by their club, not to mention a decade of derby defeats in the nineties, well, that outpouring of emotion, was akin to the revelation that God almighty had finally declared himself a Blue.

Even more impressive, is the little talked about commitment of the club's owners to the regeneration of what was admittedly a grotty part of Manchester's urban sprawl. Not that far from penthouse flats and cocktail bars, much needed investment helped to boost an area symptomised by council estates, crime, unemployment and poverty, employing locals, and helping to create national class facilities for sporting generations to come.

So fast forward to a new era.

new-badgeosc-badge

 

Not only a new badge, but a new manager, a new complex, new ambitions, and with eight wins and two draws in the first ten games of this season, and playing with a swashbuckling style which promised great attacking flare, a new, bright hope.

Therefore just how exactly did City manage to fluff their lines and not be challenging for a cup final, Europe, or the domestic title with four games to go?

Simple really.

1/. Profligacy

I could mention other reasons such as injuries to key personnel and very dubious calls by officials in big games, but the main two reasons are rather straightforward.

If you have very little possession in a game, but create ten chances in that match and take five of them, it is much more effective than if you dominate possession, create twenty chances, and only take one or two of them.

City boast an array of attacking talent, who between them, it has to be pointed out, have wasted more chances than they have taken.

Aside from the prodigious yet injury-prone Sergio Aguero, who boasts a magnificent record in English football and has become one of the club's top scoring players of all time, the likes of Sterling, Sane, Silva and Kevin de Bruyne have not weighed in with enough goals from midfield this season.

This campaign, Aguero has netted 33 goals in 45 games in all competitions, despite missing games through injury and suspension, and with a phenomenal 169 goals which have come in 215 appearances (38 as sub) * spread over five and a half seasons, he is bearing down on club record goalscorer Eric Brook, who scored 177 goals in 496 games from 1927 to 1939.

Furthermore, in previous title-winning seasons, City scored from all areas of the pitch, and spectacular goals at that. I do not recall us scoring spectacular goals from all over the pitch this season. In fact, we have a style of play which is easy on the eye, but all too often means lots of passes backwards and sideways. Yawn.

The commitment to attacking play down the wings, was what characterised City teams of yesteryear, whether it was under Kevin Keegan, Joe Royle, Mel Machin or Malcolm Allison. Peter Barnes, David White, and Paul Simpson may not be household names to neutrals, but take a straw poll and most City fans will tell you they would rather lose a game 5-4 or 4-3, than draw it 0-0.

In a nutshell, we'd rather see a runaway bus than a parked one. After all, the beautiful game is meant to be an entertainment business, right?

A 'win at all costs' mentality, which often produces displays of anti-football, and eleven men behind the ball, is not something you will see at City. Teams like Chelsea and more recently, United, can play that way if they want, but the supporters at City won't allow it.

However, and Chelsea will quite rightly be the first to point it out, having claimed the title this year, playing attractive football and being highly creative alone, does not necessarily win titles. There has to be a solid foundation, a platform, and a well-organised defence.

david-silva-player-of-season-2016-2017

Creativity has not been a problem for City. "El Magico" , City favourite David Silva, receives his Player of the Year award from City Supporters club chairman Kevin Parker.

As Guardiola pretty much admitted in this interview with BBC's Chris Bevan, after a rampant 5-0 home win against a resurgent and physical Big Sam Crystal Palace, City's profligacy in front of goal has been a huge issue.

Are City the league's best creators?

While City are only third in the league table, Guardiola is adamant they are the top team when it comes to their creative play - it is just their finishing that lets them down.

When asked about his side's inconsistency in attack after their crushing win over the Eagles, he replied: "I can only remember one game where the opponents created more chances than us - at White Hart Lane against Tottenham.

"The other ones? No chance.

"So we are better than all the teams in the Premier League, home and away, even the next champions Chelsea - we created more chances against them at home and at Stamford Bridge.

"In the boxes, though, we are not so good. Vincent Kompany's return has helped us, just with his presence, to be better in our own box.

"But we are the best team in the Premier League at creating clear, clear chances in front of goal - nobody can beat us at that."

Guardiola's stats are correct - Spurs had 13 shots to City's 12 when they lost at White Hart Lane in October.

Liverpool had the same number of shots as City when they drew at the Etihad Stadium in March but in City's other 33 league games under Guardiola, they have had more shots than the opposition.

And, although Spurs (460) and Liverpool (452) have had more chances, or shots at goal, in total than City this season (445), when it comes to what statisticians Opta call 'big chances' [defined as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one-on-one situation or from very close range], City are out in front with 67.

Guardiola has got used to seeing his side waste those sort of openings, and thought they would be punished again against Palace before their second-half goal glut.

2/. Defence (or lack, thereof).

At times this season, City's best chances have been created from breaks when the opposition team had a corner. However, those very same corners could create havoc in the box when a lack of leadership has been all too apparent.

This creates the perfect recipe for heart-attack football.

As alluded to earlier, playing attractive, creative football without a solid foundation, a platform, and a well-organised defence, has been a huge problem for City this term. The lack of confidence in the side, in a keeper seemingly incapable of making basic saves, must have spread throughout the team and the supporters, but didn't quite reach the gaffer, who was surprisingly stubborn in his insistence that Claudio Bravo was up to scratch.

kompany-defence

Big Miss. Spurs and Chelsea will know City missed captain Kompany in defence for most of the season - when he returned, he scored goals and City kept clean sheets.

Upon reflection, the absence of captain marvel, Belgian stalwart Vincent Kompany, has been a huge loss to the City defence, for sure. Whilst either Stones or Otamendi seem highly capable when playing alongside him, without him, neither seems to be capable of the same high standards of leadership, drive, courage and fight.

But aside from a flapper of a 'keeper, and a crucial player missing, there has been this squad rotation policy which has seen many different combinations in defence. If eyebrows were raised when winger Jesus Navas was played at right-back instead of lion-hearted Pablo Zabaleta, they were raised even higher when Serb Kolarov was played at centre-back. Very strange decisions indeed.

Throw into the mix, that Golden Glove winner, Premier League winner, and FA Cup and League Cup winner Joe Hart, was effectively banished once the new manager arrived, and you have the ingredients for a defence that would not be capable of winning the title, no matter how creative and stylish the attacking players are.

If you look at Chelsea and Spurs, they have made relatively few changes in their respective defences this season. Cahill and Luiz, behind Kante. Alderweireld and Vertonghen, behind Wanyama. Teams defend in partnerships.

So as the dust settles on another season, as the blues scratch their heads in frustration at what could have been, don't listen to the excuses about referees and injuries - they seem to happen to every team.

quizzical-pep

Quizzical Pep : Despite a disappointing Champions League campaign, City pulled off memorable wins at home to Barcelona (3-1) and Monaco (5-3).

No doubt there will be changes in personnel during the summer, and the rumour mill is already in full motion regarding Monaco players, but regardless of who comes and who goes, there are two basic rules which need to be addressed in the recipe for a successful campaign.

Footy is simple. If you dont take your chances, and you can't defend, you won't win owt!

Best of luck to our departing personnel, including Navas, Sagna and Clichy.

zabman

Of course, a special mention goes to stalwart Pablo Zabaleta, who joins West Ham on a free and will always be serenaded by City supporters for not just nine years' service to the cause but mostly for identifying with the average Manc and not being afraid to put his head where others wouldn't put their boot! Bye bye gentleman and legend Zabman!

So its over to you, Mr. Guardiola, to show us in your second season in England, what you have learned from your first one.

"Can do better", might be the phrase on his school report.

We shall see.

Carl J Ashley , June 2017.

Author Carl J Ashley describes his passion for City and THAT Aguero moment in his book "It's Nothing Personal : The Fox and the Scorpion meet Cold Turkey", available online at www.carljashley.com/buy and in bookshops throughout Ireland. #ItsNothingPersonal

*source of Aguero stats http://www.soccerbase.com/players/player.sd?player_id=44554

 

 

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