Manchester City: The Ups and Downs of a dismal campaign

A season full of mystery, confusion and what might have been surrounded Manchester City’s 2012/13 campaign. Reigning champions City, had to come back even stronger after their infamous title win in 2012.

Preparation for the season could not have been much worse. A list of Roberto Mancini’s targets in hand, then Director of Football Brian Marwood failed to get any of Mancini’s most wanted. A list that included Italian international Daniele De Rossi, Brazilian defender Thiago Silva, wonderkid Eden Hazard and Dutch striker Robin Van Persie, would certainly have made a huge difference to City’s campaign.

In the end, Marwood went out and bought alternatives. Javi Garcia was signed from Benfica, after De Rossi decided he wanted to stay at Roma. Garcia, 26, had a torrid season at Eastlands. He mustered only 17 Premier League appearances all season and he made only ONE remarkable performance during that time (Arsenal (A)). Garcia was also shown up in a league too fast for his own game. Where Garcia thrived was when he had space and time on the ball. He very rarely got that in the Premier League, and so failed to deliver.

Maicon was signed to add experience to the defence, but was moved on to Italian side Roma after an injury hit season. Scott Sinclair has failed to make any impact in the team whatsoever, probably because once he started training with City, Mancini realised Marwood had bought a player simply not good enough for a team of City’s calibre.

Matija Nastasic was an exception of course. A revelation at the heart of the Manchester City defence, the 19 year old Serbian showed maturity beyond his years, and ousted England international Joleon Lescott from the City team, a player who had earned many plaudits for his solidity at the back throughout Manchester City’s title winning campaign.

Nevertheless, City started the season with pretty much the same side as the season before. They started at Villa Park, in the the Community Shield v Chelsea. They swept aside their opponents in irresistable fashion and won 3-2, whilst playing Stefan Savic in the centre of defence in a 3-5-2 formation that caused much controversy later on in the season.

Jack Rodwell was signed after the defeat of Chelsea, and whenever he played was extremely good in sky blue. Unfortunately, those appearances were few and far between as Rodwell carried his injury form from Merseyside to Manchester.

City started the season shakily. A win at home to promoted Southampton should have been a straightforward task for the Champions, but Southampton used pressing tactics to thwart City, and City struggled to respond. Southampton temporarily held a 2-1 lead at the Etihad, until late strikes from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri gave Manchester City an undeserved victory.

A draw at Liverpool and a routine 3-1 victory against the eventually relegated QPR followed, whilst City bizarrely sold fans favourite Nigel De Jong to AC Milan and also winger Adam Johnson before the close of the transfer window.

September started with another two average performances. The expected yearly draw at the Britannia before a dismal 1-1 draw against Arsenal, where the visitors largely dominated. Wedged in between was the 3-2 defeat by Real Madrid, where up until the 87th minute, City were leading, before an unlikely comeback from the Spanish side, crushed City hearts. Mancini’s team was beginning to look like a side lacking the will, motivation or spirit needed to win the League, one factor that caused Mancini’s demise at the end of the season.

An unlikely hero in Edin Dzeko started to emerge, when he sealed comeback victory’s away at West Brom and Fulham in successive away games before unleashing his touch at home, where he netted the 87th minute winner in a vital tie v Tottenham Hotspur. One of City’s better performances of the season came at home to Sunderland, where Aleksandr Kolarov and James Milner ran the show for the blues.

What City had this season compared to the previous campaign, was that teams treated their game against City as some sort of Cup Final. If you could beat the Champions, it could be one of the biggest results of your year, and could give those sides a platform to build on. The lack of spirit and fight amongst the squad gave opposition teams openings and City lost 6 times throughout the 12/13 season, once more than they did the previous year.

City were being humiliated in the Champions League. At home to Dortmund, City were lucky to even get a result when Dortmund completely dominated the blues for the best part of 89 minutes, until a Mario Balotelli penalty rescued a point. Away to Ajax, City’s defensive problems were brought to light as a young Ajax side took City to pieces and won 3-1. Coming out of that game was the players’ rift with manager Roberto Mancini. Mancini had changed tactics to 3-5-2, but the players did not seem to want to implement it, and it caused confusion amongst the side. They were again almost humiliated by Ajax at home two early strikes gave Ajax a 2-0 lead, until City brought it back to 2-2.

These were both games City should have won, and Ajax did not pick up another point throughout the rest of their Champions League campaign. A combative draw against Real Madrid followed before an utterly disgraceful performance away to Dortmund’s “B” side knocked City out of Europe’s top competition in the Group Stage for the second season running.

After City’s Champions League exit, their main focus was to be the Premier League. Top at the start of December, a deject draw at home to Everton gave Manchester United the top spot heading into the Manchester Derby at the Etihad. A late Robin Van Persie winner gave City’s arch-rivals victory, but had the commitment and desire to the cause had been the level of Pablo Zabaleta’s throughout the City side, then the result may have been different. Nevertheless, United created a 5 point margin at the top of the Premier League, a margin that escalated to 11 points by the end of the season.

In the second half of the season, City did not learn from their mistakes. Once the departure of Mario Balotelli was confirmed, it was expected that City would become a better side, one that was without the distraction of the Italian maverick.

However, in the three consequent games after Balotelli’s departure, City did not win once. A humiliating defeat away to Southampton, brought with it extremely odd howlers from Joe Hart and Gareth Barry. This would be the last straw for the owners of the club. After the defeat to Southampton, Mansour reportedly told his City boardroom to look for a replacement for the next campaign. From February onwards, Mancini was a dead man walking.

Despite their failings in the league, City had forged an impressive cup run. Wins over Watford, Stoke, Leeds and Barnsley brought City back to Wembley. They were to face Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup and for probably just the fifth time that season, City turned on the style. City impressively swept away Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley, only six days after a committed and hard earned performance at Old Trafford earned City the same result.

What was to happen six weeks later was a disaster.

City were undeservedly being given the chance to win some silverware after their pathetic showings in the Premier League and the Champions League.

City fans were filled with hope, that despite all the troubles of the season, they could win something.

They believed they weren’t typical City anymore.

How wrong they were.

City turned up to Wembley in a poor run of form after their victory over Chelsea six weeks earlier. Wins at home to Wigan and West Brom were awful performances, whilst the draw away to Swansea was even worse. City also lost to Tottenham during this time, when a 10 minute lapse of concentration gave Welsh wizard Gareth Bale license to play, and he inspired a 10 minute goal-fest from Spurs to win 3-1 over the Champions at White Hart Lane. Manchester United sealed their title win a day later, and City had failed to keep their trophy away from the red half of Manchester.

Despite their poor run of form, the football world still expected City to beat Wigan Athletic at Wembley. Wigan were struggling and currently featured in the Premier League’s relegation zone. They were unable to forge the yearly run of form to get themselves out of trouble, a trademark of Wigan’s since Roberto Martinez became their manager in 2009. Football fans around the world expected it to be a walk in the park for expensively assembled Manchester City. Yet what happened was City’s season in a nutshell.

No commitment, no drive, no passion.

As Wigan players fought for every ball, City players did not. Wigan were on top of City for the majority of the game. Even City’s player of the year, Pablo Zabaleta, the winner purely because he showed the qualities that his teammates had not, did not seem up for the game, and eventually was given his marching orders.

Inevitably, Wigan scored a late winner through substitute Ben Watson, and City’s dreams for silverware were over.

City were humiliated, embarrassed and a mess, three words that could have described City many times throughout the 2012/13 campaign.

Not content with the level of embarrassment, City sacked Roberto Mancini in undesirable fashion. They then lost 3-2 at home to Norwich on the final day.

City have been a laughing stock at many times throughout their history. The first side to be Champions and be relegated. The first side to score the most goals in one season AND concede the most. A side who lost 8-1 to a mediocre Middlesbrough side, managed by Gareth Southgate. And a side, when drawing 2-2 with Liverpool at home on the final day of the 95/96 season, told the team to try and maintain the result despite needing a win to stay up.

City will come back stronger next year and will always come out fighting. Despite their mess-ups, City have always found a way to fight back. Look to the 98/99 Play off final, or Aguero’s last minute winner to seal the title.

There’s no doubt about it, City will be back.

 

Written by Henry Francis

Follow Henry on Twitter @TheHenryFrancis

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