After winning the title in the last minute of the season, Manchester City looked to consolidate their new status as the country’s top team. With the finances available to the blues, it was expected City would strengthen the team and go on to dominate the English game in the same way Liverpool did in the 80’s and United in the 90’s. But this is Manchester City, and history shows that they never, ever do anything expected of them.
But despite being active in the transfer market, City didn’t land the players they wanted. Top of the list were strikers Eden Hazard and Robin van Persie. Signing either of the two players would have given the blues an unbelievable strikeforce, alongside Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez, while being fed by Yaya Roure and David Silva. However Hazard signed for Chelsea and van Persie went to United, and City instead signed Jack Rodwell from Everton, but left it transfer deadline day to make further signings. Again they weren’t impressive. Scott Sinclair arrived from Swansea, Matija Nastasic from Fiorentina and Javi Garcia just before the window closed. And although Stevan Savic, Emmanuel Adebayor and Adam Johnson all left, the departure of Nigel de Jong hit City fans the hardest, and his presence in the City midfield would be felt throughout the season.
The blues started with a Community Shield match at Villa Park against FA Cup winners Chelsea. The blues recovered from 1-0 to win the match 3-2. The team looked sharp and hungry, and for that game at least, the problems in the transfer window didn’t seem so bad. The first Premier League game was at home to newly promoted Southampton. The bleus were expected to win comfortably but lost Aguero to injury early on. Carlos Tevez gave the blues the lead six minutes before half-time, but the visitors hit back in the second half to lead 2-1. Edin Dzeko equalised with 19 minutes remaining and Samir Nasri hit the winner with ten minutes left. The blues then visited Anfield and came back from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 with ten minutes left. City were on the verge of a first win at Liverpool in ten years, but conceded a goal in the fourth minute of injury time to draw 2-2.
The blues seemed to have an issue holding a lead, and this was furthered evidenced at home to QPR. City led 1-0 at the break, but again conceded an equaliser, before the blues rallied and scored twice without reply, securing a 3-1 win. The fight to keep a clean sheet continued as they drew 1-1 at Stoke. Following the game in the Potteries, City then travelled to Spain and a Champions League match with Real Madrid. The hosts were obvious favourites to win, but after a goalless first half, Edin Dzeko gave the blues the lead. Real equalised but Aleksander Kolarov’s free kick put City back in front with five minutes left. Madrid levelled two minutes later, then conceded a 90th minute goal to lose the match 3-2. The signs were encouraging, but the lack of clean sheets wasn’t.
That trend continued at home to Arsenal. Joleon Lescott gave City a half time lead, which was cancelled out with eight minutes remaining as the blues were held again. Two days later, City faced Aston Villa at home in the League Cup. Despite leading twice, Villa came back to force extra time and eventually beat the blues 4-2. City fans were shell-shocked. Two wins from five matches and no clean sheets was hardly the form of defending champions. September ended with a trip to Fulham and again the blues conceded, this time after just ten minutes. Aguero levelled just before half time and Dzeko scored the winner with three minutes left to secure only their third win of the season. The champions sat in fourth place, four points behind Chelsea by the end of the month.
October began at home to German champions Borussia Dortmund. The visitors showed City’s defensive frailties by taking the lead in the 60th minute and the blues looked like losing their first home match when they were awarded a penalty in the last minute, which Balotelli tucked away to secure a draw. Sunderland were the next visitors, but there was no repeat of their heroics of last season as the blues finally recorded a clean sheet as they ran out 3-0 winners. City scored their third consecutive win away to West Brom, but again came from behind to win 2-1. Back to Champions League action and a visit to Dutch champions Ajax didn’t go to plan. Nasri put the blues in front, but went in 1-1 at the break. They then conceded two more goals to lose another Champions League match and their hopes of qualifying were looking slim.
Carlos Tevez scored the only goal of the game as City beat Swansea 1-0 at Etihad Stadium and finish the month in third place, just one point behind Chelsea and the only Premier League team to be unbeaten. The blues drew 0-0 at West Ham before return Champions League match at home to Ajax. The blues had to come from 2-0 down to draw the match 2-2 as they still sought their first win in this season’s competition. Back in the league, Spurs arrived and took a 21st minute lead, which they held until the 65th minute. They looked like holding on for a point, when Dzeko scored the winner for City with two minutes remaining. Aston Villa were next up for City, and the visitors were buoyed by their 4-2 League Cup success in September. But this time, the blues were not in any mood for losing and put five past Villa without reply. A Sergio Aguero penalty rescued a point for City at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League, which confirmed their exit from the competition. City returned to London to draw 0-0 at Chelsea, before the final game in November saw the blues win 2-0 at Wigan. The blues were now second in the league just one point behind new leaders United, but stil unbeaten in the league.
December began miserably with a 1-1 home draw with Everton, before their final Champions League match ended with a 1-0 defeat at Dortmund to confirm a bottom placed finish and ended their European adventures for another year. Leaders United arrived and took a 2-0 half-time lead. The bleus rallied and equalised with five minutes remaining. With a draw looking likely Robin van Persie, the man City tried to sign in the summer, scored the winner for United in the third minute of injury time. In their two matches before Christmas, City won 3-1 at Newcastle, then had to wait until injury time to score the winner at home to Reading. The blues were now four points behind United in the league but seven clear of third placed Chelsea. They needed a good festive period if they were to make up the difference.
On Boxing Day, an Adam Johnson goal was enough to give Sunderland the points and the final game of the year saw the blues at Norwich. The two teams had shared seven goals the previous season as City won 6-1, but this match was a lot closer. Dzeko gave City a 2-0 lead after just four minutes. Norwich pulled a goal back on 15 minutes, but Aguero made it 3-1 five minutes after the restarts. Norwich pulled it back to 3-2 before an own goal gave the blues a 4-2 lead. Norwich again pulled one back, but the blues held on for the points. That result meant City ended the year second in the league, but five points behind leaders United, and despite having the third best defence in the league, the goal difference this time had swung in United’s favour too.
2019 began by beating the team with the league’s best defence when Stoke City (yes you read that right) arrived. City won 3-0 on New Year’s Day to keep the pressure on United, then started their FA Cup campaign at home to Watford. The blues won 3-0 to set up a fourth round tie at Stoke, in a reply of their final in 2011 at the end of January. But first, City had to try and win at a place they hadn’t been successful in 38 years. In fact, since that 3-2 at Highbury in October 1975, City had played 27 league matches and only came away with anything on eight occasions, losing 19 of those league games. So when James Milner gave the blues the lead in the 21st minutes, fans would have been forgiven for thinking it wouldn’t last. But it did and Dzeko made it even better for City 11 minutes later to secure the points. Six days later, the blues took a 2-0 lead at home to Fulham and this time, didn’t surrender it as they recorded their third league win in a row. The blues travelled to Stoke and won 1-0 in the FA Cup, thanks to Pablo Zabaleta’s late winner, and City finished January without conceding a single goal as they drew 0-0 at QPR. That secured the title of best defence in the league and also contributed to shortening the goal difference between the blues and United. But that result in London left City seven point behind their neighbours and City would have to rely on the reds form slumping, as it had the previous season, if they were to try and retain their title.
The blues started February with a 2-2 home draw with Liverpool. Dzeko gave the blues the lead, but Liverpool were 2-1 up with seventeen minutes left. Aguero rescued the blues, but City were falling further behind in the title race. Worse was to follow for City as they visited promoted Southampton. The home side went 2-0 up after 22 minutes, and though Dzeko pulled on back for City, a Gareth Barry own goal secured a 3-1 win for Saints. Toure and Tevez were on target as City beat Chelsea 2-0 at home, before facing Leeds United in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The last ever winners of the First Division were no match for the blues as two goals in each half saw City win 4-0 and progress to the quarter-final. Back in the league and March began with a 1-0 win at Aston Villa. The win still left City a huge twelve points behind United, and retention of the title was looking even more unlikely.
Barnsley arrived at Etihad Stadium and were thumped 5-0. The blues were out of sight by half-time and scored another two in the second half to set up a semi-final clash with Chelsea. But in the league, City were about to all but surrender the title. By the time City went to Everton, the blues were 12 points behind United, and the 2-0 defeat at Goodison, together with United’s win put the reds 15 points clear with nine games left to play. Last season it was eight points, surely a step too far to hope City would do it again?
The first match was at home to Newcastle, where two goals in each half saw the blues win 4-0. The blues travelled the short distance to Old Trafford, looking to clawback some of United’s giant lead. Milner gave the blues the lead six minutes after half-time, only for Vincent Kompany to score an own goal to put United level. With 12 minutes remaining, Sergio Aguero took on the United defence, burst into the area and hammered home the winner to give the blues hope. The lead was now down to 12 points with enough games remaining to claw it back further. But next was the battle to reach Wembley.
Chelsea stood between City and a second FA Cup Final in three seasons, and with the title race almost over, the FA Cup was looking like City’s last chance of silverware. Samir Nasri gave the blues the lead ten minutes before half-time, and when Aguero’s header made it 2-0, it was looking like an easy passage to Wembley. But Chelsea pulled on back on 66 minutes to make it a nervy last quarter, and the blues survived a huge penalty appeal, but went on to win the match and Wembley beckoned. The only team that could stop them now was relegation threatened Wigan. What could possibly go wrong?
And in a rehearsal for that final, the two teams met at Etihad three days later, with Carlos Tevez scoring the only goal with 7 minutes remaining. City were now 13 points behind United but the blues had a game in hand, and had to win their remaining fixtures if they were to mount any sort of challenge, starting at Spurs. And it all looked rosy for City when Nasri scored after just five minutes at White Hart Lane, and it was a lead that the blues held until the moment of capitulation occurred. In a crazy seven minutes, the blues title hopes all but diminished. Spurs levelled with 15 minutes remaining, took the lead five minutes later, then just two minutes after that, the home side were 3-1 up. As capitulations go, City’s was spectacular, and all United had to do was win one game in the last five, which they eased to. City ended April with a 2-1 win over West Ham as they looked to secure a second placed finish. May started with a 0-0 draw at Swansea, and a home 1-0 win over West Brom followed, before the FA Cup Final against Wigan.
But the build-up to the final was marred by reports that the blues were looking to replace manager Roberto Mancini. The blues had not been the same slick side that had swept teams away the previous season and Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini was heavily touted to be taking over. As the teams came out, it was noticeable that the blues just didn’t seem like a team ready to play in an FA Cup Final, and that was evident on the pitch. City struggled against a well organised Wigan side and when Zabaleta was sent off six minutes from full-time, it was clear there would be only one winner. Wigan won a corner in the final minute and Ben Watson rose to head the ball over Joe Hart and win the cup for the Latics. It was no more than Wigan deserved, and the City fans acknowledged this with many of them staying behind to watch and applaud their North West neighbours lift the cup for the first time.
City travelled to Reading for their penultimate league game, but the club had one final twist to add to a tumultuous season by sacking Mancini and placing Brian Kidd in temporary charge. The caretaker boss looked a forlorn figure on the City bench, but led the blues to a 2-0 win. A week after his sacking, Mancini placed a full page advert in the Manchester Evening news, thanking the fans for their support, which was reciprocated when blues fans placed a similar advert in Gazetto Dello Sport.
City’s final game of the season came at home to Norwich City. Jack Rodwell, who had barely figured all season, equalised for the blues but Norwich went ahead again nine minutes after the break. Again Rodwell levelled but Norwich scored a winner in the 65th minute to compound a miserable, trophyless season for City.
The blues finished second, 11 points behind United but finished the season without trophy or a manager. The fans were angry and they wanted a strong response next season. And they would definitely get one.