The concluding moments of the 2011/2012 Premier League season are ones ingrained into the memories of most avid fanatics of the English football scene. Sergio Agüero’s last ditch attempt flashing past Paddy Kenny in the dying seconds of the season coupled with the celebrations that naturally ensued in light of Manchester City’s first top flight title since 1968 were scenes truly extraordinary. Never before had the title been seized in such sensational fashion and never before had it taken a team until the 94th minute of the final league game of the season to clinch the title.
No matter what angle you witnessed this from, the direction which City were heading in seemed to be one widely accepted as an undisputed eventuality by all. The Manchester City fans, the Manchester United fans, the neutrals and everybody seemed to agree the Citizens could only get stronger with no definitive cessation in sight. They’d conquered the English league, overthrowing Sir Alex’s United empire in the process and now they were ready to reach the summit of the European game.
When casting a glance back at City’s success since their Abu Dhabi United Group takeover in 2008, complacency is not a word that can often be linked with them or their tendencies in the transfer market. Transfers such as Sergio Agüero (£38m), Robinho (£32.5m) and Edin Džeko (£32m) set down a marker for City’s success and sent out a clear message from chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak that he would spend however much was needed for the blue half of Manchester to fill up their trophy cabinet. Needless to say, after banking their first EPL title in 2011/2012, the thought of City going out buying another host of world class, mega money superstars was not uncommon and not altogether far-fetched.
The reality of the situation, however, saw City have what can only be best described as an utterly passable summer in the transfer market and a similar modest approach to activity during January. The defensive pairing of Nastasic and Maicon were viewed as nothing more than cover to the starting eleven, while Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair proved to be as uninspiring as their transfers suggested, both struggling to even make the bench on a regular basis for City. Further to this City splashed £16m on Benfica’s Javi Garcia who, despite being City’s ‘big money summer signing’, has struggled majorly to imprint himself on the starting line-up. City then waved goodbye to a relatively forgettable January transfer window by selling on problem child Mario Balotelli to AC Milan. Of course the debate of whether Mario was too much of a hindrance to remain at the club is another story for another day, however the facts remain that Mario scored 13 league goals for City in the 2011/2012 season. The very same season in which City won the league by having a goal difference of 8 more goals than Manchester United. Without Balotelli’s goals City would not have won the league. To be selling players of this magnitude without replacement gave the impression that City felt the plateau which they had reached in the season previous would be enough to see them continue taking strides forward as a European force. By resting on their laurels however, City have somehow managed to make their season implode. Questionable performances in the Premier League has seen City slip 12 points behind league leaders Manchester United and Mancini’s imperious, almost arrogant approach to the Champions League saw his side take an early bow out of Europe at the first hurdle.
When addressing the Ferguson/Mancini battle it is clear to see where both sides may have felt it necessary to strengthen their side in the pre-season. United lost the league on goal difference, which naturally provoked Ferguson into making a play for arguably the best striker in the EPL in Robin van Persie. The transfer has subsequently paid dividends with the Dutchman netting an incredible 19 times in 27 appearances thus far. City however took a much more reserved approach to the transfer market and largely spent the summer covering up on their losses, Sinclair in for the outgoing Johnson, Garcia being seen as a means to replacing De Jong. It was most uncharacteristic of Mancini and a risk that appears to have backfired stupendously. Likewise City’s performances have reflected this unenthusiastic approach to the season on numerous occasions so far and left them floundering in an abyss of touch-and-go, half-baked domestic success.
To say the title race is dead in the water however would be a simplistic and somewhat bold statement to make considering the antics of both Manchester clubs last season. With United squandering an eight point lead with only six remaining games surely no title race is over after only 27 games. Or is it? City do not look like a side capable of overturning this deficit and should be looking anxiously over their shoulder at Chelsea and Spurs sniffing around their prized second place. Several off-key performances from Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany followed up by a dip in goalscoring output from familiar faces such as Tevez and Agüero begs the question of where exactly the blues are going to find that extra bit of inspiration or reserve to push on and overturn the 12 point gap. As it stands the points difference seems insurmountable for City and thus places an even greater onus on their FA Cup campaign. Having drummed up high-scoring victories against Championship outfits Leeds United and Watford, as well as grinding out a tricky win at Stoke, the Blues find themselves ready to face Barnsley in the 6th Round. Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton still remain in the competition but City will certainly see this as their most realistic focus for success now. A season trophyless would be viewed as catastrophic by all at the club, especially given City’s new found stature since winning the FA Cup two seasons ago.
Would it be too much to ask for Mancini to keep his managerial role should they not win a competition this season? In today’s footballing climate of knee-jerk reactions and constant interchanging of managers the answer is almost certainly not the one Roberto would be hoping for.