Neil Sherwin looks at some of the main reasons why Manchester City’s reign as Premier League champions ended after just one season.
1. Failure to strengthen the squad in the summer
Roberto Mancini has spoken about the failure to attract his top targets to the club in the offseason, including Robin van Persie and Danielle De Rossi amongst others. Instead, Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell, Maicon and Scott Sinclair were brought in and, if anything, weakened the squad. Garcia has been hit and miss, Rodwell is injured more often than not, Maicon has barely played, and Sinclair, while the right idea in a conventional winger, clearly hasn’t impressed Mancini and has made no impact when used.
The one exception to the poor purchases is of course Matija Nastasic. The 20 year old Serb was criminally overlooked for a PFA Young Player of the Year nomination and has formed a very good partnership with skipper Vincent Kompany at the heart of the defence. A ball player centre back, Nastasic’s composure belies his years and just one yellow card in 26 appearances is an excellent disciplinary record.
2. The sale of Nigel De Jong
Every squad needs a Nigel De Jong. Not the most technically gifted, the Dutchman did what was needed to allow others express themselves further up the field. Yaya Toure in particular benefitted greatly from not have to be so defensively aware when De Jong was in the team and while Garcia, Rodwell and Gareth Barry should be able to play the holding role, none of them do it with the same authority.
There were contract issues with De Jong and they subsequently led to his move to AC Milan for a cut price £3.5 million. However, the club should have made more of an effort to retain a player who had a big impact both on and off the field. A serious case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva have all had at least one prolonged spell on the sidelines through injury, with Aguero getting things going in the very first game of the season when he was stretchered off against Southampton. Between them they have missed 21 games so far and that, coupled with Yaya Toure’s month at the African Cup of Nations, has seen City without the spin of the team quite regularly.
Of course, every team has to deal with injuries and a club with City’s spending power should have adequate replacements but anyone would suffer without four players of that calibre.
4. Inability to dominate the “little guys”
There were alarm bells as early as the season opener when late goals were needed to see off the newly promoted Saints at the Etihad Stadium. Over the course of the season, City lost at Southampton and Sunderland and drew away to bottom side Queens Park Rangers, a stark contrast to Manchester United who picked up nine points from the same three games.
City also looked far from convincing as they limped to late wins against Norwich at Carrow Road (4-3), Reading at home (1-0, injury time winner) and Wigan (also 1-0).
While it would be unfair to class Everton as a small team, the annual struggle against the Goodison Park side was as regular as clockwork with City taking just one point from the two fixtures between the sides.
5. Slump in attacking performances
The defence has remained quite solid, thanks in large part to the performances of Nastasic and Pablo Zabaleta, and is still the best in the league, conceding an average of 0.9 goals per game (30 goals in 33 games).
However, it’s at the other end of the pitch that they have struggled to emulate the the title winning season. The current goals per game ratio of 1.78 (59 goals in 33) is a long way off last year’s 2.45 (93 goals in 38 games), while Carlos Tevez is the only attacking player to have scored more goals this time round, and even that stat comes with the caveat of him having missed a large chunk of the 2011/12 campaign.
If City are to claim the trophy back next season they will need to rediscover their swagger and ruthlessness in front of goal.