The first half of the 2013-14 season has come to a close following the Christmas period and it has been satisfying, nerve wracking, thrilling and infuriating, often all at once. Following below are a selection of the good parts of the season so far…
Old Hands & New Signings
In contrast to last season, City’s transfer activity in the summer was punctual and effective. All of the players brought in (with the exception of Jovetic) as big summer signings have performed admirably, meeting and often exceeding expectations. They have not only excelled individually, they have also elevated the older hands to new heights.
Negredo has been enthusiastically bullying defenders for the last three months and scoring important goals at home and abroad.
His away form domestically has not matched up to his remarkable goalscoring record at the Etihad but his style of play has allowed Aguero to flourish which more than makes up for the relative lack of goals. Negredo ended up as the 7th highest goalscorer in Europe for 2013 which is mightily impressive. The best thing about the man though is that he gives the impression that he’d be putting in the same level of effort whether he was playing for us in 2013 or 2003. He is a supreme professional who loves his work and is very good at it.
Similarly, Fernandinho has formed a very exciting partnership with Toure. It took a few games to click properly but once they got used to each other the football has been outstanding. Both of the central midfield pair have the ability to burst forward and defend and often switch back and forth throughout the game. There is a more in depth look at the impact Fernandinho has had on the team here.
Navas took longer to settle into the Premier League but now looks to be the exciting winger and alternative option that we needed following last season where we often looked a one track team with no Plan B. He is skilful, has an eye for a pinpoint cross and is unfeasibly fast. Navas really stepped up in the last month or so for the busiest part of the season, starting with one of the best goals ever seen at the Etihad when Spurs tipped up for a beating.
Even Demichelis, the emergency defensive cover with an often wayward first touch, the occasional pass to no one and a sometimes startling lack of pace, has done well considering he was never supposed to be playing as many games as he has done. His head seems to be attracted to the ball and he has contributed many clearances and a non-negligible amount of assists. He will be a valuable mentor to Nastasic over the next year and a half.
Goals, Goals, Goals
It hardly needs saying, but perhaps the greatest joy of watching City this year has been the sheer amount of goals scored. Football is entertainment at the end of the day and the manager and players have certainly delivered. At the time of writing, City have scored more goals than any other team in a European League which is simply astounding to anyone who remembers the Stuart Pearce glory days.
The horror, the horror.
Ahem, moving on. Goals! So, so many goals this season, and a large portion of them have been finishes for the end of season highlight reels. The flashiness and style of the goals has more than justified Pellegrini’s commitment to attacking football. Aguero and Negredo have deservedly taken the plaudits for their tallies but the goals have been coming everywhere and everyone has been contributing, notably Toure who has 11 goals already this season.
Free kicks, super fast breakaway goals, patient build ups. Early goals, late goals, avalanches of goals.
Late winners away from home against the best club side in the world from oft derided midfielders.
We’ve seen it all this year and there are no signs that City will be letting up in the second half of the season. That the media have begun to describe the Etihad as a sort of nightmarish hellscape when other Premier League teams are scheduled to visit gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing.
Champion’s League Progress
…And away from the Premier League, City’s progress in the Champion’s League this year has been most pleasing. The progression from last year’s humiliation under Mancini to being the only team to win 15 points and not finish top of their Champion’s League group could not be starker. The loss at home to Bayern Munich was not great but losing to the European Champions at home is not shameful, even if we did roll over somewhat. Regardless, revenge for that loss was had in the away fixture at the Allianz Arena, a result which made the rest of Europe sit up and pay attention.
The best part of the Champion’s League this time around was when City were drawn against Barcelona in the next round. Games such as this forthcoming tie are why we all watch football so assiduously and both legs should be entertaining fixtures.
The novelty this time round was that City played with no fear in Europe, both at home and away. There was no sense of an inferiority complex, no sense that we should not be there, as has been evident in the past. Progress in the Champion’s League was a main reason Pellegrini was brought in and he has delivered in impressive style. Massive European teams now fear us which is a strange feeling. Carlo Ancelotti made it very clear that he saw City as the most dangerous opponent in the Round of 16. Mundo Deportivo wet their pants when Barcelona actually did draw City, giving the world such amusing headlines as, “El City, NO!” and, “Amenaza Kun.”
We are in uncharted territory, but isn’t it all exciting?
Both teams have recently been destroying all comers and going on long winning streaks based on the same playing style as the first team. This should, in theory, help to ensure the medium and long term future of the club and bring success for many years. This will only improve when the Etihad Campus is complete and open for business in 2015 and everyone from all the teams are playing in close proximity. As an aside, from January Jason Kreis, the new head coach of NYCFC, will be shadowing the City management teams at both senior and youth levels to learn how the club works meaning that this system of play will also be transported across the ocean.
Happily, many of the most talented of the young players, such a Jack Byrne, Brandon Barker, Emyr Huws, George Evans and Devante Cole are British which (fingers crossed) will give the lie to the idea that City have no intention of developing local talent. No doubt the club will continue to buy players from abroad but if it doesn’t come at the expense of quality it would be great to see more British youngsters in the team.
Not that we necessarily have to buy ready made foreigners all the time. The EDS has quite happily integrated some of the most talented young players from around the world into the ranks. First amongst the foreign players are Marcos Lopes, John Guidetti and Karim Rekik, all of whom look more than capable of breaking into the first team on a regular basis in the future. Big things are expected of the three players mentioned and all are worth keeping an eye on.
MCFC Ladies & the Ambition It Signifies
Finally, City have begun, “parking their tanks on the lawns of the women’s game,” as Louise Taylor so memorably put it in The Guardian. In preparation for the new Women’s Super League season, which kicks off in April, City have been making statements through their transfer activity, signing 4 England internationals: Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Karen Bardsley and Toni Duggan. All are very talented footballers and their signatures demonstrate the seriousness of City’s ambition in yet another area of the game. The new ladies are being used just as prominently as the men are in promotional material and will be using the Etihad Campus with all the other teams when it is completed. It is not a stretch to say that City are doing their level best to push the women’s game to new heights of success.
To all the people who laughed away at the word ‘holistic,’ this is what it means. City are not content with just winning trophies in the men’s European game. Recognition and success in the women’s game is just as valuable to the club. This is in addition to the aforementioned Jason Kreis and his new MLS team which is being built on the foundations of the many soccer schools the club has been running on the East Coast of America for years now.
It has been a very exciting season so far and there is much to look forward to from January 2014. It has not all been positive though and some of the bad parts of the 2013-14 season so far can be seen in Part Two…
Written by Alex Timperley