Continuing to chart City’s long and often painful journey from Division Three to three times champions, we look back at the 2013/04 season and the bleus chase for another Premier League title. With a new manager at the helm, could he win the league in his first season?
The previous season had been a bit of a disaster as far as City were concerned. They had not only failed in their title defence, but also lost the FA Cup Final to Wigan Athletic. Roberto Mancini had been sacked after the trip to Wembley, and it was widely reported that Mancini had been dismissed for not promoting a ‘holistic approach’ to bringing youth players through. While the footballing world googled the word holistic, City replaced the Italian with Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean had guided an unfashionable Malaga side to the quarter final of the Champions League, and he was seen by the City hierarchy to be the one who could take the blues further in that competition.
Pellegrini wasted no time in recruiting new players, with the club signing Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Martin Demichellis for a combined fee of around £91m. The new boss then allowed Kolo Toure, Wayne Bridge, Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez and Maicon to leave the club, bringing in just £15m in revenue. The bleus had spent big and the team needed to perform to justify the expense.
The first match of the season took place on a Monday night at home to Newcastle. Over 46,000 packed into The Etihad to watch the Pellegrini begin. And they were not disappointed. After just seven minutes, David Silva opened the scoring, which was doubled by Sergio Aguero fifteen minutes later. The bleus were dominant and added another two in the second half through Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri. Negredo had a fifth goal disallowed as the blues ran out comfortable 4-0 winners.
New boys Cardiff were next and the bleus were fully expected to come away from South Wales with all three points. And it looked likely when Edin Dzeko put City in front seven minutes after half time. The lead lasted eight minutes as the home side levelled, then stunned the blues by adding a second on 79 minutes, then another three minutes from time, Negredo pulled on back for City, but it wasn’t enough and the blues suffered a shock 3-2 defeat.
There were some rumblings of discontent amongst the faithful as Hull City arrived in Manchester. After a goalless first half, the fans were wondering just what had happened to their team. But in the second half, Negredo silenced the doubters with his second goal for the blues, and Toure added a second in the 90th minute. Relief amongst the faithful, but at goalless draw at Stoke did nothing to make the fans believe City could win the title this season. The blues finished sat in fourth place, three points behind leaders Liverpool and the fans wanted a big result in their next league game. It had to be big and it was.
But first, City travelled to the Czech Republic to face Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League. The blues hadn’t won a single CL game last season and were looking to get their campaign off to a decent start. After a goalless first half, City hit the team hard at the start of the second, scoring three goals in a thirteen minute spell to secure a 3-0 away win, before returning home for one of the most eagerly awaited fixtures of the season.
Manchester United had taken City’s crown and the blues wanted some sort of revenge. Sir Alex Ferguson had been replaced by David Moyes, and the reds sat one place below the blues in the table, having also won two drawn one and lost one. That would all change from the moment Aguero hooked City into the lead in the 16th minute and Toure made it 2-0 just before half time. City had squandered two goal leads against United on at least two previous occasions, but this time would be different. Aguero made it 3-0 two minutes into the second half and Samir Nasri made it 4-0 three minutes later. United pulled a goal back three minutes from time, but it was City’s day and Manchester was blue once more.
If the result against United was revenge for their league success, another one was soon to follow. The blues had been drawn at home to Wigan in the League Cup and the fans wanted blood against the team that had denied them FA Cup glory. Dzeko put City in front in the first half, before a Jovetic double and strikes by Toure and Navas saw sweet revenge for the blues.
On the back of two high-scoring wins, any other team would have gone into their next game and won convincingly, but not City. Villa Park was a place where City triumphed more often than not, but this occasion was definitely a not. Toure gave the bleus the lead on the stroke of half time, but Villa levelled six minutes after the break. Dzrko put City back in front, but two goals in three minutes won the match for Villa. By now, City had dropped to seventh in the league, five points behind new leaders Arsenal. It was still early days, but City needed to find their rhythm and some consistency soon.
In the Champions League, Bayern Munich arrived for the second time in three seasons. Last time the blues had beaten the German giants 2-0, but there would be no repeat this time. Joe Hart endured a horror show as the Bundesliga side took just six minutes to take the lead. Within 14 minutes of the second half, they were 3-0 up, with a Negredo goal in the 80th minute giving the scoreline some sort of respectability.
Everton arrived and were beaten 3-1, with Negredo and Aguero both on the scoresheet, along with visiting keeper Tim Howard, whose own goal put him on the City scoresheet. Two weeks later, City repeated the scoreline at West Ham, which was followed by a 2-1 win at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, and the fans were finally seeing the real City. Or were they?
Stamford Bridge awaited the blues and it was Aguero who levelled for the blues after Chelsea had taken the lead in the first half. It remained that way until the 90th minute when Hart committed another howler to allow Fernando Torres (yes you read that right) to score the winner for the home side. City lost 2-1 in the final league game of October, which left them still in seventh place. As title challenges go, this one looked as far from one as a team could get. But the League Cup offered the blues an opportunity of silverware, but first they had to navigate past Newcastle. Goalless after 90 minutes, the match went to extra time, and the home side were sensing a win. Negredo and Dzeko put paid to their hopes with two goals in the first half of extra time to send the blues through to meet Leicester.
City welcomed Norwich City to the Etihad for the first match in December, and the visitors wished they’d never turned up. The blues were 4-0 up by half time, with an own goal on 16 minutes was quickly followed by goals from Silva, another own goal and Negredo strike. The second half didn’t get any better for the Canaries. Toure, Aguero and Dzeko all added to the tally to record City’s biggest ever Premier League win. The blues continued their goalscoring exploits by putting five past CSKA Moscow in the return Champions League tie. Aguero scored a penalty after just three minutes, and notched another after 20. Negredo made it 3-0 before CSKA pulled one back. Negredo scored again six minutes after the break, and although CSKA pulled another back, Negredo completed his hat-trick in stoppage time.
But once again, typical City showed up just to throw a spanner in the works and lose 1-0 at Sunderland, who were rapidly becoming the blues’ bogey team. But that game on 10th November would prove to be City’s final defeat of the year. Spurs arrived at The Etihad and were 1-0 down from kick-off. City scored twice more in the first half, then knocked in another three after the break to hammer the Londoners 6-0. Viktoria Plzen were next and gave the blues a bit more of a fight. An Aguero penalty was levelled by half time, and when City went 2-1 up after 65 minutes, the visitors equalised four minutes later. Negredo put City in front for the third time and Toure made sure there wasn’t another comeback with City’s fourth.
December started with a 3-0 home win over Swansea, followed by a 3-2 win at West Brom. The blues were 3-0 to the good at The Hawthorns after 74 minutes, but decided it was far too comfortable and allowed the home side two goals to set up a nervy finish. Aguero scored after ten minutes at Southampton, but the home side levelled before the break which completed the scoring. City no doubt would have had an away game at Bayern Munich on their mind prior to that match and they were anxious to avoid another defeat in the same manner as their earlier 3-1 loss. But it didn’t look good for the blues as Bayern raced into a two goal lead after just twelve minutes, and the fans feared a hammering. But fear turned to hope as David Silva pulled a goal back on 28 minutes and the team went in 2-1 down at half time. On 59 minutes, City won a penalty, which was converted by Aleksander Kolarov and just three minutes later, the blues completed a remarkable turnaround as James Milner popped up to make it 3-2 to City. If they scored one more goal, the bleus would top the group, but as so often is the case with the blues, it was a goal too much for them, but a 3-2 win at Bayern wasn’t to be sniffed at.
The blues had really started to find some form, and were in the mood to put a dent in leaders Arsenal’s title hopes. The Gunners were six points clear of City by the time the teams met on 14th December, but that gap was quickly reduced to three. And it was reduced in style. Aguero scored after 14 minutes, but despite Walcott’s equaliser, the blues went in 2-1 up at half-time thanks to Negredo. Fernandinho made it 3-1 five minutes into the second half, but Walcott pulled a goal back again. Silva scored City’s fourth and Fernandinho got his second to make it 5-2 with two minutes remaining. But there was still time for Arsenal to score again and Toure to make it 6-3 from the penalty spot. The league leaders had been demolished in front of the faithful, who started again dreaming about lifting the title.
City travelled to Leicester in the League Cup and walked away with a 3-1 win to set up a semi-final with West Ham, before travelling to London and their final match before Christmas against Fulham. Toure and Kompany gave the blues a 2-0 half time lead, which was wiped out by the 69th minute. But City were not to be denied, with Navaz and Milner both scoring to give the blues a 4-2 win. City went into the Christmas period in third place, but now just one point behind the new leaders Liverpool. And the two would meet on Boxing Day.
The match would prove to be a controversial one. A winger by the name of Raheem Sterling beat the offside trap to score, but luck was on City’s side as the linesman incorrectly raised his flag. It was a short-live reprieve as Countinho gave the visitors the lead on 24 minutes, but Kompany levelled just six minutes later. By half-time, the blues were in front. Alvaro Negredo went through on goal and scored with an odd attempt, which the keeper should have dealt with but didn’t. The blues won to move above the reds into second place. The final game of the year saw struggling Crystal Palace as the visitors, and their stubborn defence held out until the 66th minute when Dzeko scored to keep the pressure on Arsenal at the top.
New Year’s day saw City win 3-2 at Swansea, before drawing at Blackburn in the FA Cup, meaning a replay at the Etihad. Before that though was the simple matter of a League Cup semi-final. The blues had already beaten the struggling Hammers and not just the game, but the tie was over as a contest by half time. The blues went 3-0 up and scored another three, with Negredo hitting a hat-trick. Four days later, Dzeko and Negredo were at it again as the beat Newcastle 2-0 at St James’s Park to finally go top of the league.
Blackburn were hammered 5-0 in the FA Cup replay, then Cardiff were put to the sword with the blues running out 4-2 winners. City finished the job against West Ham, winning 3-0 on the night and 9-0 on aggregate to easily book their place at Wembley. And the goals kept on flowing, but the FA Cup tie at home to Watford gave the blues a huge scare. The Hornets took a 2-0 lead into the break and a major upset was on the cards. Enter Aguero, who came on in the second half and soon set things right. On 60 minutes, he pulled one back for City, then levelled with 11 minutes remaining. Kolarov made it 3-2 on 87 minutes and the Argentine striker completed his hat-trick in injury time to set up a fifth round tie with Chelsea. City’s last game in January saw the blues travel to White Hart Lane. Spurs had ended City’s slim hope last season with a 3-1 win but there was no repeat. Aguero gave City a 1-0 half-time lead, but the blues ran riot in the second half, racing into a 3-1 lead before scoring another two to win 5-1 for the second time in three seasons. The blues were now sitting pretty at the top of the league and the early season’s doubts had disappeared.
February started with a home defeat to Chelsea, which saw the blues knocked off their perch. That was followed by a dire 0-0 draw at Norwich, which wasn’t the ideal build up to their FA Cup tie or the Champions League last 16 tie with Barcelona. But it would turn out good for one of those matches. Chelsea were beaten 2-0 as City avenged their two league defeats to the blues and reach the quarter final for the second successive season.
The Champions League was up next and City were at home for the first leg against Barca. City held the Spaniards until Martin Demichelis was sent off in the 53rd minute and Lionel Messi scored the resulting penalty. Barca scored again in injury time to give the blues a mountain to climb. Stoke City were next and again City struggled to break them down until Yaya Toure scored with twenty minutes remaining to give the blues a 1-0 win. The fixtures were coming thick and fast, but City had a chance to secure silverware as they faced Sunderland at Wembley in the League Cup Final. The Black Cats took the lead after ten minutes and held onto it until half time. But two minutes of sheer brilliance turned the match on its head. Yaya Toure nonchalantly hit the ball from well outside the area, which flew past the Sunderland keeper to draw City level. A minute later, the blues were in front. Aguero hitting the ball across the box and Samir Nasri hit it perfectly with the outside of his right foot to leave Sunderland shell-shocked. In the final minute, a Sunderland attack was broken up and Toure stormed forward before making a perfect pass to Navas, who hammered home the third to ensure City won the cup. One trophy in the bag, now City could concentrate on the league and FA Cup as pundits started touting them to be the first team to complete a domestic treble.
On 9th March the blues were looking to secure another Wembley date in the FA Cup. The only thing standing between them were the current holders – Wigan…again. The blues had already beaten Wigan 5-0 and surely they could do it again. No. 2-0 down after 47 minutes, Samir Nasri pulled a goal back, but City couldn’t get another and once again, lost to the Latics. Known for their humour, City fans immediately made light of the defeat on social media. Earlier in the season, the fans had created a song about Sheikh Mansour going to Spain in a Lamborghini to bring back a manager Manuel Pellegrini. This was adapted to the following:
Sheikh Mansour went to Spain in an Alfa Spider. He brought us back a manager who couldn’t beat Wigan either!
With that particular treble gone, a second treble was also about to disappear. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, City travelled to the Nou Camp just hoping for Barca to have an off day. But the blues were not so lucky. Again level at half-time, Messi opened the scoring to make it 3-1 on aggregate. Pabloa Zabaleta became the second blue to be sent off in this tie, before Vincent Kompany equalised on the night. But it was Alves again who scored the winner and condemn the blues to a 4-1 aggregate defeat.
With no distractions, the blues could focus on the league, and a trip to Hull gave the blues a 2-0 win. Yaya Toure scored a hat-trick as City beat Fulham 5-0 before the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford. United under Moyes were struggling and had just lost 3-0 at home to Liverpool. Within a minute of the match starting, City were 1-0 up. Samir Nasri’s shot hit the post and Dzeko slammed home the rebound. It remained that score until eleven minutes after the break when Dzeko doubled the lead. Yaya Toure rounded off the scoring with a sweeping shot across goal to inflict another 3-0 defeat on the reds. The blues good league form ended at Arsenal as the Gunners equalised David Silva’s 18th minute opener. The blues then beat Southampton 4-1 at home, before travelling to Merseyside and a huge game against Liverpool.
By this stage, the blues were lying in third place in the league, four points behind their opponents. If they lost, it would all but kill off their title hopes. And it would take just six minutes for the blues to fall behind. Raheem Sterling sent the Liverpool fans dreaming of a first league title since 1990, and when Skrtel doubled the lead, it looked like a case of damage limitation for the blues. But the second half saw a turn around in fortunes. David Silva pulled a goal back on 57 minutes and five minutes later, Liverpool collapsed as an own goal drew City level. The bleus sensed victory, but it wasn;t for them. Instead Coutinho scored the winner with 12 minutes remaining. Liverpool celebrated like the race was over, which prompted Steven Gerrard to tell his teammates that ‘this does not slip.’ Unfortunately for Gerrard, his legs didn’t get the message as his slip against Chelsea set up the first of two goals for the Londoners as the reds title challenge began to falter.
City meanwhile struggled to a 2-2 draw with Sunderland. Fernandinho gave the blues a 2nd minute lead, only for Sunderland to hit back to lead with seven minutes remaining. Samir Nasri equalised to secure a point, but the blues were now six points behind Liverpool. City beat West Brom 3-1 at the Etihad, then secured a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace. With both Liverpool and Chelsea faltering, it opened the door for the blues, who were now just three points behind the Merseyside leaders. City travelled to Everton for the first game in May and came away with a 3-2 victory which sent City top of the league, level on points with Liverpool.
Two days later, Liverpool went to Palace, seeking a victory to keep the pressure on the blues, and by half time it was looking very likely as they led 3-0. The reds went in search of more goals, but it was Palace who would get them. 3-0 became 3-1, then 3-2. City fans prayed for Palace to get an equaliser and their prayers were answered as the Eagles made it 3-3. The result left Liverpool and their fans in tears. Top of the league but only one point ahead, Liverpool were now reliant on City messing up at home to Aston Villa.
On 7th May, City entertained Villa and a nervy encounter was goalless at half time. Liverpool fans were hoping Villa could hold on to save their season, but Edin Dzeko broke their hearts and sent City fans wild by scoring in the 64th minute. 1-0 is always a difficult lead to hold, so when Dzeko made it 2-0, it made the blues favourites to take the title. Stevan Jovetic made it 3-0 and yaya Toure made absolutely certain by running the length of the pitch to make it 4-0 and send City two points clear at the top. All they needed to do was match Liverpool’s result on the final day to be crowned champions.
West Ham were the team City would face, and after already beaten the Hammers three times and there was always the fear that the visitors would pull off an unlikely shock. Those fears were dismissed when Samir Nasri struck to give City the lead six minutes before the break. Vincent Kompany could almost feel the trophy in his hands and his goal in the 40th minute made sure he would be lifting it for real.
As the full-time whistle went, blues fans invaded the pitch as City were crowned Premier League champions for the second time. That charming man, Manuel Pellegrini had won two trophies in his first season in charge, and now the question was could they win the lot at some point? Andwoudl they ever beat Wigan in the FA Cup?