The 2012/13 season will forever be overshadowed by Manchester City’s title triumph the previous year.
Even winning the FA Cup will not save manager Roberto Mancini from an awkward debriefing with his paymasters.
Crashing out of the Champions League group stages and failing to mount a proper title challenge will have disappointed everyone at the Etihad and in Abu Dhabi, but there is reason to be optimistic that next season City will bounce back. Five reasons, in fact.
1. Mancini has taken a step back to move forward
Just what was Roberto Mancini playing at? After winning the Premier League title with the last kick of the season, Mancini had the necessary foundations to build a period of City dominance in English football.
Instead, the league was surrendered with little more than a whimper to rivals Manchester United and even despite their recent derby win at Old Trafford, City will finish around a dozen points behind the Red Devils.
However, there are promising signs for next season from that derby win and the FA Cup semi final win over Chelsea. Mancini has seemingly abandoned the tactical experiments that sealed their last place finish in their Champions’ League group, primarily the back three that worked so disastrously.
Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure form a formidable defensive shield, while the pairing of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero provides a perfect blend of technical skill, pace, and work rate.
In fact, the City team of recent weeks bears a remarkable similarity to the City team that won that maiden Premier League title. It’s almost a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
2. No more Sideshow Mario
In City’s title winning season, Mario Balotelli scored 13 goals in 23 league appearances. Up until his January move to AC Milan, Balotelli had one goal in 14 games.
The Italian was a constant distraction for his compatriot in the dugout, and even threatened to take the club to a tribunal for fining him for his disciplinary record the previous season (before dropping his appeal the day before the tribunal was due to start).
Balotelli was given far too much slack by Mancini who appeared to see a kindred spirit in the troubled youngster. Twenty appearances this season was about 18 too many and undoubtedly cost City points, most notably in the 3-2 Manchester derby defeat at the Etihad earlier this season.
Balotelli gathered more headlines off the field than on it and his absence will quieten the circus around City and Mancini, and also cause less tension within the squad.
3. A proper transfer plan
Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia, Maicon...it is fair to say that City’s summer transfer activity was dire. Only Matija Nastasic has been a success, but even that has led to a fall out between manager and Joleon Lescott. Whatever happened last summer cannot happen again.
With Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano now directing City’s footballing direction, Mancini (if he is still in charge) can expect a much more focused and professional recruitment policy. Mancini constantly points to City’s failure to sign Robin van Persie as the reason why City have failed to retain the Premier League, but the truth is the club has looked divided over transfers.
Nigel de Jong was sold but his replacement was a young Englishman, beset by injuries and certainly not the type to replace the Dutchman’s aggression in the middle of the park.
Sinclair came to replace Adam Johnson on the fringes of City’s team and was another case of City wasting their resources, while the potential move for van Persie would have upset at least one of the club’s then four big money strikers.
There is no longevity in the planning and it is costing the club money, as well as performance on the pitch. This summer should see City operate a lot more effectively – let’s face it, they couldn’t do much worse!
4. Stronger rivals
This may seem counter-intuitive, but City may benefit from Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and others strengthening their teams for next season. United have run away with the league, in fact they can break the points record if they win all their remaining games. If United faced stronger opposition more often then they would be dragged nearer to the chasing pack.
Equally, City have actually done well against the tougher teams but complacency has slipped in when City have played so called ‘weaker teams’. Two of City’s four losses have come at Sunderland and Southampton, with draws at QPR, West Ham, and Stoke have also cost City valuable points. City cannot be expected to be so proliferating against teams battling relegation again.
5. Bye bye Carlos
Carlos Tevez will have one more year remaining on his contract this summer. The temperamental Argentine has calmed down at the Etihad after going on strike last season, however it seems unlikely that Tevez’s stay in Manchester will extend beyond 2014.
That could play into City’s hands as there is nothing as motivated as a footballer trying to earn a contract. Many might expect Tevez to return to his South American roots but it would be no surprise to see the footballer/mercenary move to Paris St Germain or one of the Italian giants.
If his next move is off the back of an impressive season with City, with plenty of goals and some glory at the end, Tevez and his advisors will be in a stronger bargaining position.
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