The first half of 2016 was dominated by feelings of frustration and disappointment, as Manuel Pellegrini’s last six months with the club resulted in Manchester City scraping fourth place on goal difference ahead of rivals Manchester United. The misery was worsened by the embarrassment of Leicester City’s title win – it was a season where the title was there for taking, and Pellegrini’s men just weren’t up to the task.
Thankfully, change was in the air. The fans received a much needed boost in February of 2016, as it was announced that arguably the world’s best manager, Pep Guardiola, would be taking over as manager for the 2016-2017 season.
Guardiola’s start to life in England couldn’t have gone much better, winning the first ten games of his tenure at Manchester City. It would have taken a brave man to bet against the Blues winning the Premier League title after Pep’s tenth game, but a draw at Celtic Park before defeat at White Hart Lane led to Pep’s men falling off the pace. Prior to Wednesday night’s victory against Watford, City had won just four of their last 15 games, with the honeymoon period proving to be well and truly over for Guardiola. Fortunately, victory against Watford was followed by a superb victory over title rivals Arsenal, leaving the Blues seven points behind the leaders, Chelsea.
As City go into the busy festive period, now is as good a time as any to assess Pep’s first few months in charge of his new club, and the final months of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign.
Guardiola has made more changes to his starting XI than any other manager in the Premier League has this season. Therefore it may be surprising for you to learn that selecting my best XI was incredibly straightforward. I simply opted for the team that was most commonly selected by Pep in his opening ten games, the most successful spell of the year for the Blues.
Kevin De Bruyne take this title with ease.
As seen with Mesut Ozil on Sunday, you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t work hard and produce when it matters, you’ll never be considered one of the greats.
De Bruyne’s work ethic is very good for a ‘playmaker’, but it’s his ability to perform in the big games which gives him the edge over many other talented footballers.
Last season he propelled the Blues into the Champions League semi-finals with crucial goals in both legs against Paris Saint-Germain, and also helped the Blues reach the final of the Capital One Cup with a goal and an assist in the semi-final of that competition against Everton.
KDB continued this theme in the 2016-2017 season. His free-kick against Barcelona turned out to be the winning goal, he scored the opener in this season’s Manchester derby and grabbed the assist for the winning goal, as he did against Arsenal on Sunday.
While his miss against Chelsea recently cost us, he has been by far our most important and influential player throughout 2016.
I was always sympathetic towards Manuel Pellegrini; he was brought in as a stop-gap but won a domestic double in his first season, and settled the club after years of controversy under Roberto Mancini.
However, Pellegrini’s last season at the club was nothing short of disgraceful. To almost finish outside of the top four with a squad of Manchester City’s quality and value is embarrassing. There is no question that a change was needed – Manuel was simply not good enough to take the club to the next level.
Pep’s appointment split neutral fans down the middle, with one half suggesting that the best manager in the world would show his class in Manchester, while the other half suggested that he would be ‘found out’ by the ruthless nature of English football. To be honest, neither have been proven wrong thus far. Pep’s opening ten fixtures were a joy to behold, while the following 16 have highlighted some of the limitations of his management, and mainly, his squad.
We must remember however, that this is not his team. The drop-off in standard from his previous clubs, in terms of player quality, is sizeable to say the least. There is no short-term fix for the flaws in this current City squad, and it will take Pep at least one season before he is able to maximise the squad’s potential.
I retain complete faith that Pep Guardiola is the best person for the job.
Kevin De Bruyne’s opening goal at Old Trafford in the first Manchester derby of the 2016-2017 season.
Despite Guardiola winning his opening three fixtures, City were still underdogs going in to this game. The rhetoric from both pundits and fans alike was that the game had come too soon for Pep, with his team supposedly unable to produce what he desires from them so shortly after taking over, and so predicted a comfortable United win.
City however, were in control of the game and needed to capitalise on their early pressure. As Kelechi Iheanacho flicked the ball on, Kevin De Bruyne saw his opportunity. He nicked the ball away from the onrushing Daley Blind, before finishing superbly past one of the world’s best goalkeepers, in David De Gea.
It was a goal worthy of the 15 minutes that preceded it, and set the tone for the rest of the match.
It has to be the home game against Barcelona in the Champions League of the 2016-2017 season.
After receiving a hammering at the Camp Nou, there was a strong feeling of pessimism going into the game at The Etihad. After Barcelona’s counter-attack was capped off by a cool finish from Lionel Messi, it is safe to say we all feared the worst.
What followed will go down in history as a watershed moment for Manchester City. Two goals from Ilkay Gundogan and a stunning free-kick from Kevin De Bruyne gave the Blues a famous victory over the best team in the world. It was the game that announced City’s intentions on the world stage.
Last season’s most disappointing game was undoubtedly the home fixture against Manchester United in March 2016. It was a performance which epitomised the entire season – spineless, toothless, and simply not good enough.
This season’s home game against Chelsea was also tough pill to swallow. City had dominated the game and managed to take the lead against a team who were on a seven game winning streak. Things were looking bright, before Kevin De Bruyne managed to miss an open goal from two yards out, in what was ultimately the turning point of the game.
Chelsea capitalised on a combination of dreadful defending and poor goalkeeping to score three second half goals, and take all three points back to London. As if that wasn’t enough, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho both saw red late on, exacerbating City’s misery.
A real sickener.
I’m going to give ‘Hero’ to someone who has turned his year around – Raheem Sterling.
I’m a big fan of Sterling, and even before the smear campaign by sections of the media throughout Euro 2016, I thought that the criticism he received during his opening season at City was completely unjustified – the 11 goals and 8 assists that he clocked up was hardly a bad return for a 20-year-old.
It would have been easy for Sterling to have let the criticism affect him, but he started the 2016-2017 season in fantastic form, earning the Premier League Player of the Month award for August in the process. He has worked hard under Guardiola to improve, and this was underlined by his winning goal in Sunday’s victory over Arsenal. Keep it up, Raheem.
There’s a number of candidates for this unwanted accolade, with Nicolas Otamendi and Aleks Kolarov coming close in the running. Manuel Pellegrini also came close, but he’s already received enough of a bashing throughout this review.
Thankfully for them, one man has had such a horrendous season so far that no-one else really stood a chance. Claudio Bravo.
Bravo’s debut in the Manchester derby was a sign of things to come as he allowed United a route back into the game out of nothing. It was always going to be hard to replace fan-favourite, Joe Hart, but Bravo really hasn’t helped himself with a string of high-profile errors.
He is firmly in the bad books of City’s fans right now, but the quality is there for the Chilean ‘keeper to turn it around. Let’s hope he can improve in the coming months.
The first half of 2016 was incredibly disappointing, but now is the time to move on. City are now in an unfamiliar position, wherein they have the right quality of coach to match the ambition of the owners.
While Guardiola has been unable to build upon his fantastic start, City still have it all to play for. A seven point gap is minuscule at this stage of the season, while they have a winnable Champions League knockout tie to come. With Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho set to return from suspension, and Brazilian ‘wonder kid’ Gabriel Jesus to come in, there is no reason why this could not be a special season for the Blues.