With 19 games of the 38 game season now over and done with, Manchester City sit in third place in the Barclays Premier League with just three points separating them from leaders Arsenal.
In the grand scheme of things, this is far from a disastrous situation to be in. The Premier League has been more inconsistent and harder to predict than it’s probably ever been this season and if City can right some of the wrongs of the first half of it in between now and May, there’s still every chance they’ll go on to win the title.
However, that the Blues have thus far failed to establish dominance over a very open league has been a source of extreme frustration to many supporters. City spent more money than anybody else on improving their squad during the summer and at times they’ve performed very well and looked very much like the best team in the country.
But then again, they’ve also racked up five defeats already and been thoroughly trounced on more than one occasion.
When City won the league in 2011/12, they only lost five games all season. When they finished second behind Manchester United the following year and when they won it again in 2012/13, they only lost six. In the whole of last season, they only lost seven.
You’ve got to admit, it makes for rather worrying reading.
Following some less-than-impressive pre-season results which influenced many in the media to predict a 4th or, in some quarters, 5th placed finish, City began the season with a Monday night trip to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men got their campaign off to a perfect start when David Silva gave them the lead after nine minutes and at half-time it was 2-0 thanks to a fine Yaya Touré strike. A headed goal from the reborn Vincent Kompany sealed the win in the second half and City found themselves at the top of the table thanks to what had been the best team performance of the Premier League’s opening weekend.
The following week, City again impressed with an emphatic 3-0 win at home to reigning champions Chelsea (a result which seems less impressive in retrospect than it did it the time). A week later they won 2-0 at Everton, and the week after that they beat newly promoted Watford by the same margin when they visited Etihad Stadium.
After four games, City were top of the league and cruising towards the title with many prematurely believing they’d go on to win it at a canter and with a record points total to boot. It was in their fifth game, however, that the first imperfections began to emerge.
City may have beaten Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park but Kelechi Iheanacho’s injury time winner glossed over what had been their first real average performance of the season. The Blues had played some scintillating stuff to this point, but they looked blunted after Sergio Agüero hobbled off with an injury in this match and were rather fortunate to come away with all three points. We perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, but there’d be plenty more where that came from.
The following week, West Ham travelled to Manchester for what most of us expected to be a straightforward home win. City had been beaten at home to Juventus in the Champions League in mid-week and had lost their imperious captain to injury meaning Eliaquim Mangala and summer signing Nicolás Otamendi were set to be partnered together in central defence for the first time this season. Nothing to worry about though, right?
Wrong. After half an hour, City found themselves 2-0 down and struggling. A goal from Kevin De Bruyne on his home debut just before half time gave them a glimmer of hope and they were unlucky not to force at least an equaliser in the second half, but it wasn’t to be and City lost their first game of the season by two goals to one.
One defeat, and an unfortunate one at that, is nothing to get carried away about. The manner of City’s defeat at White Hart Lane the following week, however, came as a very rude awakening indeed.
City began the game well and were good value for their lead when De Bruyne made it 1-0 after 25 minutes. However, everything fell apart as soon as Spurs grabbed a controversial equaliser on the stroke of half time and City ended up leaving London lucky to escape with just a 4-1 hiding.
Humiliating defeats of that nature have become something of an alien concept to City fans in recent years but the performance away at Spurs was far from an isolated incident in the first half of this season.
Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool also ran out 4-1 winners when they visited the Etihad in November and were it not for Joe Hart, it could easily have been seven or eight. City were similarly abysmal when they travelled to the Britannia Stadium in early December and should really have lost to Stoke by a greater margin than 2-0.
On all of these occasions, the team has been somewhat handicapped by some strange team selections and baffling tactics, but the playing staff must also take personal responsibility for some shambolically ill-disciplined displays.
City got their season back on track with a 6-1 victory at home to Newcastle in early October and the star of the day was undoubtedly Sergio Agüero. Some comical defending from City had helped Newcastle take an early lead but the scores were level at the break thanks to Agüero’s second goal of the season. In the second half, he quickly followed it up with his third, fourth, fifth and sixth goals of the campaign before he was withdrawn as a precaution just after the hour mark.
It was a sensational display from the league’s best striker which only made his subsequent injury during the international break an even harder pill to swallow. Given the money City have spent and the squad they have, sympathy is always going to be in short supply once a few injuries begin to stack up. However, the alarming frequency with which City have been without the likes of Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Agüero and nearly everyone else at one time or another has definitely had a detrimental impact on their season so far and keeping everyone fit in the second half of the season will be absolutely key.
Winning their “big” games will also be extremely important. City have not yet beaten anyone who’d be considered a genuine title rival this season. They have, however, been beaten by Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal, and have drawn 0-0 away at both Manchester United and Leicester. With trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge still to come in the New Year, plus a potential title decider against Arsenal at the Etihad in the penultimate game of the season, it’s fair to say the Blues’ form against their rivals must drastically improve if they’re to have any chance of winning the league.
As things stand, City have 36 points from 19 games meaning they’re on course for a total of 72 which, in previous seasons would have just about guaranteed you a Champions League spot. At this stage last season, City had 43 points. When they won the league in 2013/14 they had 41 points after 19 games, and in 2012/13 they had 39.
Projected points forecasts are perhaps rather academic given that whoever wins the Premier League this season will likely do so with fewer points than anyone’s had for a long time, but it does make you realise that winning this league isn’t going to be that great a feat and all it will take to do so is a bit of consistency over the next 19 games.
If City can somehow keep their injuries down to a manageable level, consistently beat the lesser sides and pick up positive results against the teams around them, they will win the title. But considering the way the first half of the season has gone, you’d be a fool to bet on them doing so at the moment.
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Written by Dan Burke