Manchester City season review – Mancini’s men find cure for ‘Cityitis’ in title win

Premier League – 1st

FA Cup – Third round

League Cup – Semi-final

Champions League/Europa League – Group stage/last-16

Grown men and hardened Manchester City followers were scarcely able to turn their eyes to the pitch at the City of Manchester Stadium. Hot tears of frustration spilt from the eyes of stoic, embittered supporters who know how it feels to travel to Lincoln, York and Macclesfield to watch their team in league action. Ninety minutes were up, and the team in seventeenth place in the Premier League – down to ten men, no less – led the champions-in-waiting by two goals to one.

Joe Royle, the manager who pulled City from the third tier by their bootstraps, termed the affliction ‘Cityitis’. With moments of the 2011/12 season to spare, the disease had flared at the cruellest time possible. Forty-one unsuccessful shots had been fired at QPR’s goal. Eighty-one percent of the possession had been enjoyed. Unfathomably, Roberto Mancini’s men still trailed. With grim predictability, the final whistle rang at the Stadium of Light. A 1-0 win looked to have earned Manchester United the title that nobody seemed to want.

Met by a stern QPR rearguard – the same team that had capitulated so shamelessly at Stamford Bridge just two weeks before – the next great Manchester City failure played out. This is a club which has by turns been relegated by Jamie Pollock’s greatest own-goal of all time and through seeing out time in the corner when a goal was required. It is the only side to ever suffer the ignominy of relegation the season after winning the title, ending the disgraceful 1937/38 season with a positive goal difference, no less.

Farce is written into the DNA of Manchester City. But this season was supposed to be different. This was the season which ought to have been defined by the insouciant swagger with which Mancini’s men eviscerated last season’s champions 6-1 on their own turf. It was meant to be a season whose fate was planned from the opening weeks, when a joyously liberated team broke free from the defensive shackles of 2010/11; the 5-1 dismantling of Tottenham another sumptuous highlight. With David Silva in impish mood – five goals and twelve assists before the turn of the year – and Mario Balotelli a savant genius in attack, City had decided to ditch the farce which once seemed every inch their identity.

Winter comes with two inevitabilities: the nights draw bleaker and Manchester United relentlessly wear away Premier League opposition. An unassailable margin eroded to give United the advantage. Suddenly the unceasing flow of goals dried up. Mario Balotelli’s off-field antics drew City to distraction. As late goals consigned City to defeat at Sunderland, Chelsea, West Brom and Swansea, the self-imposed absence of Carlos Tevez grew in significance. No longer was the Argentine a mercenary who poisoned the dressing room. His reappearance became imperative to the revitalisation of City’s faltering title hopes.

As Balotelli exited in disgrace at the Emirates Stadium, the season apparently in ruins, Tevez made his return. In partnership with Aguero, the goals flowed – fifteen in 5 successive wins – which catapulted City to the top of the table ahead of the season’s denouement. What tragicomedy ever has a happy ending?

Then, as disconsolate fans exited the stadium and Mancini slumped helplessly in his dugout seat, transpired five minutes which the words of no human can do justice to. There was barely time for the agony of hope following Edin Dzeko’s ninety-second minute equaliser before Sergio Aguero produced a sensation of sheer promiscuity in the terraces which no amount of money could hope to buy.

Manager – Roberto Mancini: Once the euphoric pitch-invaders had been cleared, as he led the team to collect the Premier League trophy – resplendent in trademark suit, an Italian flag draped over his shoulders – he exuded a calmness which belied the turmoil of the season’s finale. For his elegance alone, he is a deserved title-winner.

Player of the season – David Silva: Embalmed in glory, eulogies can be written about each contributor to City’s first league title since 1968. Joe Hart’s confidence and Yaya Toure’s remorselessness carried a struggling City towards the line. David Silva’s early season form showcased the closest thing to Georgi Kinkladze that Abu Dhabi’s millions could buy.

Turning point: Whole theses could be written on the behaviour of Mario Balotelli. However, whilst the 6-1 annihilation of Manchester United announced City as champions-elect, perhaps only Michael Thomas, Jimmy Glass and Paul Dickov have conjured a moment as sensational as Sergio Aguero’s title-clinching goal in English football history. It was simply breathtaking.

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