Manchester City’s 2-1 loss against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park all but marked the end of their title defense. They looked lethargic, slow, and lacking energy against a team that had little to play for other than protecting their role as the Premier League’s designated season spoiler. But this isn’t just the end of the title race for the season; it may well be the end of this era of Manchester City soccer.
When the Abu Dhabi money flowed into Manchester City’s coffers like rainwater (and oil), the ambitious project was designed to take Manchester City from mid-table mediocrity to the top of Europe in five years. The cash took Manchester City to the top of the Premier League (with a little help from their friends) in two of the last three seasons. But, their European form has never quite matched their domestic form, and without another title to distract from that, major cracks have appeared in the Citizen’s foundations.
The average age of Manchester City’s 10 most regular starters this season is 29.2 years old, by far the oldest of teams in the top six across Europe’s biggest leagues. They are 2.4 years older on average than Manchester United, and nearly six years older than Spurs who could be challenging them for a top four place soon. Liverpool’s average age is 25.1 years old, 4.1 years younger than Manchester City.
Manuel Pellegrini is almost certain to lose his job this summer with no trophies to show for this season and with a possible spot on the table as low as fourth. But with City’s current rut, especially away from home, it’s not entirely implausible to say that one of Liverpool, Spurs or Southampton could give them a run if their form improves (Spurs host Manchester City at the Lane in May, and Manchester City host Saints on the last day of the season). But even with another Champions League season on the cards, Pellegrini is going to be held accountable for the season his team has had.
His tactics have been a problem, especially in European matches in which he’s looked outclassed and out of his depth at many points. But worryingly, it’s starting to happen against weaker Premier League sides like Burnley, Crystal Palace, Stoke City among others. But part of that has to do with the players too, and they may share a larger role in City’s downfall.
Yaya Toure, who is reportedly being courted by Inter Milan this summer, is nowhere near the player he was last season, when he was possibly the most dominant midfielder in England, and he will be 32 in May. Sergio Aguero certainly has good years ahead of him if he can stay healthy, which is no given. David Silva is 29, as is Jesus Navas, Pablo Zabaleta is 30, Vincent Kompany is about to turn 29 and has shown a worrying drop in form, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The squad cannot do what it has done in the past, and too much faith has been shown to the older hands in the squad and replacements have not been found. Eliaquim Mangala has been to this point a flop, Stefan Jovetic is certainly out the exit door this summer with possibly Edin Dzeko joining him, and there are no replacements in the team or in the youth system. All of the teams around City in the table have found a way to buy effective replacements for departed stars as well as promote from within, which City and Txiki Begiristain have not done.
Manuel Pellegrini is an easy sacrificial lamb for City’s struggles this season, but the problems go beyond who’s in the dugout. The squad needs to be entirely overhauled, and no one has faced the music and taken responsibility for that.
If City don’t massively overhaul this summer, from within and from the outside (and within the bounds of FFP), they risk being overtaken by Chelsea, Arsenal and their Manchester rivals too.
This summer might be the most pivotal one yet for Manchester City since the takeover, and that’s no understatement.
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