The 2012/13 season is now in the can and although City are over in American on an end of season trip thoughts will soon be turning towards the off-season with a new manager and potential transfers to focus on, before we start getting into the preperations for the 2013/14 campaign.
Stay tuned over the weekend where we will have a series of posts looking at potential transfer targets for the club but before all of that the writers here at Bitter and Blue engaged in a roundtable session to answer some of the key questions coming out of the recent season.
A second place finish and FA Cup finalists. How do you judge the season?
(Suffering Bruin) Disappointing if not downright depressing. The loss to Wigan in the FA Cup, a first-round flameout in the Champions League and not within a loud shout of the Premier League title... I mean, there are not enough anti-depressants enough in the universe to bring me back up. If you made a bet with me that Man City would be trophy-less by May 2013, you would have won a lot of money from yours truly. The sooner we get this season in the rearview mirror, the better.
(Shuddertothink) Does the season hinge on one game? It half feels like that. An FA cup win would have just about have left us able to cope with the season. Instead we tasted defeat with a limp display, this failure to win left us looking at 2nd place but far off the pace, CL group exit (tough group) and defeat to a relegation side in a cup final. A lost season is how it feels right now.
(Harkiano) Essentially it's been a season of underperformance. When you run through the squad and look for individuals who have performed to the level they are capable of week in week out then only a handful of players stand out. When you look at where City have come from over the last few years then second in the league and reaching the Final of the Cup is no disaster and the majority of fans, whilst frustrated, could tolerate the dip in performance levels. The owners obviously felt differently. In terms of judging the season as a whole, whilst we have played some good football at times there has been an air of predictability about our play throughout. Losing the Cup Final and Mancini losing his job in the manner he did (and on the day United celebrated their title parade) was a sad twist to conclude the campaign that reminded every fan that we are still Manchester City!
(sonics097) This season was a disappointment, but not a failure. It was like having the keys to a Ferrari, but to discover that it only works on a Mercedes. I think we can clearly see the team's deficiencies between last year and this year, and as long as we properly address them, we have the personnel and foundation to be meet our goals next season. The only way to go in the Champions League is up, and United didn't actually improve their point total this season, leaving one to assume there might be some regression on their end in the Ferguson-less era as well.
(zacmacphee) It's somewhere between average and good. It's a second place finish, but closer to fifth than first and the title race ended sometime in January. I thought the Cup run was fun but it was also against weak opponents (Watford, Stoke, Leeds, and Barnsley) and the manner in which the final was lost was rather demoralizing. I lean more towards the lower half of average once the Champions League campaign is included - while it was an absurdly difficult group, not getting a win in two matches against Ajax still seems impossible and the way we lost the match in Madrid was inexcusable.
(lafaitele) not a success, but it could have been a lot worse. If you were to have offered City fans 2nd place in the league and finalists in the FA cup, most would be ok with it. Not super happy, but ok. If you were to tell them that they didn't have a chance of winning the league since January and that the lost the FA cup to Wigan, they would be much less ok with it. If you were to then mention that we drew 3, lost 3, and finished 4th in our group in Europe, they would not be happy at all.
Thank goodness we finished 2nd in the league, and will get an easier draw in the Champion's League next season (anything would be easier than getting Real Madrid, Dortmund, and Ajax).
(kmoney) If we hadn't headed to this season looking to improve on what happened last season, I'd be pleased. But, that isn't the case. I'm certainly not completely disappointed, though I wish we had done more in the Champions League.
Mancini is gone. Right or wrong move?
(Suffering Bruin) Right move and I say that with reluctance. It was either commentator MarcL or Mack71 who pointed out to me the key words in the press release announcing that Mancini was moving on: the team wanted a more "holistic" approach. I asked my wife - who is both smarter and better looking than me so, yeah, I scored but I digress - what that meant to her and she said, "Sounds like they're looking for a whole person rather than just a manager."
It sure seems like Mancini ticked off one too many people within the organization. Why else would the Etihad brain trust all but open the floodgates to stories of Mancini's sacking literally hours before the FA Cup final?
(Shuddertthink) Mancini is gone. Right move. He turned is into a powerhouse at the Etihad, but our away form is not good enough to run away with a league like united did. Problems in the dressing room, problems with the executive management was only going to end one way. A slightly harsh sacking as the team Mancini built is a fine, fine team. It was time though.
(Harkiano) Such a tough call to make...the head says right and the heart says wrong! There has been an element of rewriting history recently with various leaks and stories emerging of how vain, arrogant and unpopular Mancini was around the club and how happy the players are he has gone. Whilst there may be some truth within that, a football manager does not have to be popular or liked by the players to be successful. And a large ego is almost essential to be a top manager.
That said, the league campaign was decided by February, the Champions League was a disaster (albeit in an extremely difficult group) and the FA Cup was a shock defeat that will resonate through history for years to come. When you factor in the number of non-performances this season (Everton, Southampton, Cup Final etc.) then you can understand why the change was made. Mancini brought City success and the greatest moments watching them for many supporters and on an emotional level, I don't think many Blues wanted him to go.
(sonics097) It was a disappointing move, but I'm not ready to say whether it was the right move or not. For that, I'll wait to see how Pelligrini does. Mancini certainly left the door open for his sacking, but I thought our ownership might be a bit more lenient with him and allow him time and space to fix his own mistakes, like United have allowed Ferguson to do over the years. But, if Pelligrini truly is a better fit for the team and can get the most out of the transfer market, then there's nothing to be said against that.
(zacmacphee) Right, depending on his replacement. I understand I'll probably be in the minority here, but I think he took us as far as he could. While he certainly had the support of the fans, it seemed like he was slowly losing the support of the players. He's proven he's a good manager domestically, but he has never had success on the European stage - and a club with our ambitions is going to have to win in Europe. Pellegrini's proven success at such a level is surely why he's the odds on favorite for the position.
(lafaitele) right move to fire him. I love the man, including his fire, indomitable will, and of course his scarf. I think that 20 years ago or earlier he would have been the ideal manager. Unfortunately, when the players are making way more money than you, they're going to be the favored ones with upper management (especially when several of them get together and decide you are the worst). For a manager to really succeed in today's game, he needs to be able to motivate a player through excitement and passion, not anger. He can't go to the press and call out specific players. He can't start fights with them in the locker room, on the training ground, or especially during a match.
(kmoney) Right move. I love Roberto and thank him everyday for the memories he gave me in the early years of my soccer revival (following Hughes wasn't hard to top, though). It was his time to go, and hearing how he was getting along well with the players, it was just time.
Which players surprised you see this season. Both good and bad?
(Suffering Bruin) Pablo Zabaleta was the Man City player of the year. Before the season, I wouldn't have had him on the short list; he was outstanding and deserving of the accolades. Additionally, Nastasic was a huge surprise -19 years of age and one of the best centre backs in the league? I'll take that, thank you. My biggest disappointment was Javi Garcia. He played pretty well in some early Champions League games but just withered as the season went on.
(Shuddertothink) Matija Nastasic was the good surprise. Very difficult for young center-half to play at this level. Hard to find other bright spots, Pablo Zabaleta/Gael Clichy. Too many others regressed. Mario Balotelli badly let us down, Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell both had lost seasons due to injury. I could go on.
(Harkiano) I suppose the biggest surprise on the positive side would be Matija Nastasic who slotted into the team as if he had played there for years - I remember Ben (Shuddertothink) and I being surprised to see his name on the team sheet at the Bernabeu for his debut, but he was not fazed by it and hasn't been all season. When fit, Rodwell has shown a real attacking dimension to his game that I didn't know existed and he'll hopefully keep fit. Honourable mentions to Zabaleta, Milner and Clichy for their consistency.
On the negative, Joe Hart - whilst being slated by the press at times - has surprised with a couple of clangers this campaign, although he will come back stronger. None of our attacking players have shone consistently, Aguero seems to have been hampered by injury and second season syndrome, Tevez has played with spark but lacked the hot scoring streak, and Edin Dzeko (our top scorer no less) has been....Dzeko. The summer break for David Silva will do him the world of good.
(sonics097) I'll start at the back, where I think Joe Hart was a slight disappointment with more mishaps than I would have expected. Barry was also a disappointment, but then again he is getting older. I'll give Yaya a pass because he matched his non-existent matches with brilliant ones. Nasri was a disappointment as well, no comment needed. And all of our strikers disappointed. Each of them, though I applaud the effort Tevez and Aguero still put in. Good surprises go to Nastasic and Rodwell, as I think everyone agrees.
(zacmacphee) Best surprise is surely Matija Nastasic. While Raphael Varane is rightfully earning applause for his meteoric rise at Real Madrid, Nastasic's seems almost on par. His skill, his poise, and his composure at just 19 is simply amazing. I have butterflies just thinking of his future. Both Zabaleta and Clichy had outstanding seasons (the FA Cup final being little more than an anomaly) - better than I had imagined they might be. On the other side, I'll go with Samir Nasri, who I just don't think was good enough. For most of the season (April not withstanding) his attitude wasn't right and his performances lacked the energy or workrate that should be expected to accompany someone with his ability. Honorable mention for Javi Garcia.
(lafaitele) Bad - Samir Nasri. He seems to have spent half of his energy hating Mancini, and never really seemed to give his full effort. Edin Dzeko - he belongs on a counter-attacking team where he doesn't have to one-touch pass the ball in a closed space. Send him to Napoli or Bundesliga (where both would be better fits) Good - Nasty. this was really the only player that I felt developed and grew throughout the season. To be honest, we should have been playing more of our youth players. This was a wasted season as far as player development.
(kmoney) Good: Nastasic: Coming in as a young signing during the summer, I was a bit skeptical of what he would bring to an already tough back line. At first he struggled, but as the season went on he got better and better.
Bad: Yaya: Granted there were games where he played outstanding, but there was more when he looked bad. He is extremely vital to our teams success, much like a Silva, and he needs to be more consistent next season.
What is the biggest thing the new manager faces when he arrives at the club?
(Suffering Bruin) Knowing from day one that he needs to be a great manager both on and off the field, that he must excel in a holistic manner, and that he must, MUST (pardon my shouting) win something by May, 2014.
(Shuddertothink) He doesn't need to unite a dressing room, for they are already together. He just needs to get the players to buy in to what he wants to do. He needs to inject some more pace in midfield, he needs to solve the over reliance on full-backs to provide width. Needs to freshen up the attacking system too which became stale this season.
(Harkiano) As with any new manager when they arrive at a new club, Pellegrini needs to quickly decide who he wants to keep and who he wants to move on. This will not be his decision alone of course, but with only a handful of elite players available and intense competition for them all it is essential that City move quickly in the transfer market to avoid last summers disappointments. He will need to assess the character and balance of the side and ship out those who don't have a future and strengthen in the areas where we have been lacking. As has proven the case at City in recent history, selling players can prove as problematic if not more so than signing them.
(sonics097) The biggest hurdle will be the transfer market I think. Bringing in the right players to fill our holes is huge right now. As long as the new manager has a set tactical approach which can be achieved with the core players we have now and some fresh legs coming in, he can be successful. But I think this is the biggest challenge, rather than managing the egos.
(zacmacphee) Winning over the fans. Mancini was beloved by all and his sacking was mourned like a death in the family. I'm not sure how the supporters will react to the new manager, but he will certainly have to earn our love.
(lafaitele) From my understanding of Manuel Pellegrini, all of the reasons that Mancini failed are the reasons that he will succeed. He is a people person, who is beloved everywhere he goes. There's a reason that many of the clubs he coached at still refer to him as God, and why his former players say that he is the biggest influence on their development. He will be the perfect fit to manage the very large talents and very large egos in the City dressing room.
Besides man management, the new manager will have to move along several players on the team (Lescott, Barry, Tevez, Dzeko, possibly Nasri and Maicon). He will then have to bring in the right kind of players while developing a style of play that will extend to the youth teams, as well as NYCFC. The new man will have to do the kind of full club overhaul that every manager has to do when he joins a new team in Football Manager. There will be no short term project here. This will be a work that will influence Manchester City over the next decade.
(kmoney) Expectations. Like any new manager coming to a team with a passionate following, there will be high expectations and City is no different. Not like Pellegrini isn't expecting them, but it is how he responds when things get bad.
What are the key areas that need strengthening in the off season?
(Suffering Bruin) If I may dream for a moment - Falcao or Cavani would certainly strengthen our striker corps, Bale would do a world of good for our wing play and what the hey, throw in a first-class DM. The larger point being, there are several Premier League clubs who will be significantly better than they are now. Arsenal is this close to being a helluva team and Liverpool is closer than that, not to mention the Red Menace and Chelsea... we've spent in the past. We need to spend more and we need to get some studs.
(Shuddertothink) Pace from the midfield onwards. Only Sergio Aguero and maybe Yaya Toure and Rodwell are players who I would class as genuinely quick. I think another quick striker will be bought (Cavani) a wide player (maybe not Isco by the sounds of it) and I think we need a quick midfielder who can break the lines but can also play effectively and responsibly with Yaya Toure. A decent sized in tray for the new boss.
(Harkiano) We were sorely lacking width and pace at times last season so I would have a quick and skilful attacking midfielder or wide player as priority number one - there is talk of Isco arriving with Pellegrini from Malaga, Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona would also fit the bill. Obviously after selling Balotelli in January and with Dzeko and Tevez's futures uncertain a top class centre forward is required too - no surprises here but Edinson Cavani would be ideal. With Gareth Barry aging and Rodwell's fitness concerns another central midfielder would be required - Fernandinho appears keen on the move if his twitter feed is anything to go by. Departures not withstanding we are well covered at full back. Personally I would retain Lescott and bring in a centre half prospect to compete with Kompany, Nastasic and Joleon next season. If Pantillimon leaves as appears likely, we'll be looking for a backup keeper also. A busy summer awaits!
(sonics097) Our attack is what needs the most attention. One or two back-up full backs need to be brought in and perhaps a CM if Barry or Garcia leaves (don't think they will). But other than that, we need a pacey, creative winger/attacking mid who can help open up defenses. One or two of those would be great, Isco would be perfect. And we need another top-line striker. Sell Dzeko, bring in Cavani/Falcao/Lewandowski, promote Guidetti, and we should be set up front.
(zacmacphee) Striker and centre-back. Up front, Dzeko and Tevez look all but gone, leaving us with Aguero and Guidetti, who I'm all but certain needs another season on loan. Hopefully we find a way to land a player like Cavani or Lewandowski, but if we don't we'll need to look elsewhere (perhaps Mario Gomez). Kolo Toure has already announced his intentions to move on and Lescott will certainly be looking for a place where he can get the sort of regular playing time he needs as he chases a spot in England's World Cup squad. We'll need to add depth that we're comfortable with if and when both of those players leave. In addition to that, I'd love to see Isco (especially if Pellegrini really is the choice).
(lafaitele) We need to bring in world-class players to shore up the following positions - a tall striker who can also work in small spaces (combine Tevez and Dzeko). He should be able to be a target for crosses as well as make deft touches under pressure. Basically Robin van Persie. We also need another central midfielder that can play with Yaya. I still don't know what position he should be. I don't know if he's a deep lying playmaker that shields the defense, while allowing a player like Rodwell to surge forward. I don't know if he's a box to box midfielder that goes on runs through the middle, but takes turns covering for the defense. I don't know if he's an attacking midfielder who leaves all of the shielding duties to another player. Yaya Toure is an incredibly talented player who is also an enigma. The new manager will have to figure this out, and then figure out which incredible player to spend a large sum of money on.
Other than these problems, the future is incredibly bright. We have ownership and management that are genuinely concerned with making our team into a global force. They are committed to the long-term project that will turn into a money-printing machine. For the most part, they are not in it to be famous or to be noticed. This summer will go a long way to deciding the kind of future we will have as a club.
(kmoney) Attack (Midfield and Forwards). This was one of the main weaknesses this season, especially in terms of consistency. Two games we would look unstoppable, and then it was like something switched and we became a shell of our selves. With lots of expected overhaul of the team, I think this problem is on its way to getting fixed.