City and United: hell bent on finishing fifth

May 11, 2016 Tags: , , Reads 12 comments
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It’s been a lean year in Manchester. Whether Red or Sky Blue, struggles abound in England’s North-West. Rivals for more than a century, the Premier League’s two most financially powerful clubs share the common trait of suffering through on-the-field issues that are not easily fixed. For all the money on show neither side seems capable of buying its way up the table, nor capturing fourth place and with it the Champions League.

The Citizens‘ difficulties are all the more confusing as the club seems to have been structured off-the-field to succeed on it, unlike the fierce rivals down the road at Old Trafford. City’s academy is flourishing, Pep Guardiola has been announced as the incoming manager for 2016/17, and the club is heading in a unified direction. It makes the Blues’ fall from grace this season all the more perplexing.

While City’s Champions League success has brought the club goodwill, it has also hidden a disastrous season considering Abu Dhabi’s huge investment. Expectations are sky-high, which means City’s failure this season is increasingly pronounced. And even City’s European campaign hides its own flaws. While making it through the group stage is a must for top clubs, the Blues’ progression contained a series of limp performances in the knockout stages.

UCL Knockout Fixture Shots on Target
Dynamo Kiev (Away) 3
Dynamo Kiev (Home) 1
Paris Saint Germain (Away) 3
Paris Saint Germain (Home) 1
Real Madrid (Home) 0
Real Madrid (Away) 1
Meanwhile, club talisman Sergio Aguero failed to register a single shot on target in City’s last five Champions League encounters. Despite his success in the Premier League, the Argentine has struggled on the biggest stage, much like his club.

In truth, none of City’s shiny acquisitions stood up when it mattered most this season. Kevin De Bruyne was a shining light, and represents City’s future, nut the Belgian’s success lies in stark contrast to many of his teammates.

The squad will need to be rebalanced. Besides the promising Kelechi Iheanacho, City’s squad is now a cast of older, expensively assembled talent. In fact, despite the Blues’ growing success at youth level, the first team squad contains only seven players under the age of 28 – and two of them, Aguero and Wilfried Bony, are 27. Meanwhile, the squad has 15 players with contracts that extend beyond 2018.

This will be no easy rebuilding job for Guardiola. Not only will the Spaniard lack a quorum of players he needs to implement his playing style, but he has far too many in the wrong age bracket as well. Then there is club captain, Vincent Kompany, who is both City’s best defender, and an injury-prone liability.

Still, planning is underway behind the scenes. The Blues have already been touted with a move to sign Marc Ter Stegen as Joe Hart’s replacement. The gaffe-prone Englishman does not fulfil the criteria as the sweeper keeper that Guardiola typically prefers. There is also gossip of a move for Aymeric Laporte and Ilkay Gundogan, although the German’s latest injury likely delays a summer transfer by a year. If it happens at all.

"While City’s Champions League success has brought the club goodwill, it has also hidden a disastrous season considering Abu Dhabi’s huge investment. Expectations are sky-high, which means City’s failure this season is increasingly pronounced."

Yet, a clutch of new players will not cure all ills at the Etihad. Guardiola’s mere presence may work wonders, of course, but the version of City delivered this season makes that narrative harder to buy. Not least because City’s failure comes at a time when major rivals are weak. It will be a long summer in which all aim to improve.

Speculation about the future does nothing to hide the team’s ailments, which have become so stark it is as if Manuel Pellegrini’s players are doing everything to sabotage any chance at Champions League qualification. While Manchester United’s defeat in East London on Tuesday hands the initiative back to City, there will be no surprise if the Blues lose at Swansea City on Sunday. The welcome for Pep will be less than warm in the Europa League.

The appointment of a new manager at the beginning of February may well hold the key to the team’s poor form, but some of the problems are season-long and seemingly systemic. Not least because they are underpinned by Pellegrini’s predictable tactical approach.

The season started well though. City won 23 percent of the club’s season points total in the first five games. Crowned Champions in August by foolhardy fans, City fell apart in spectacular fashion, losing 10 games in the league this season. West Ham beat City at the Etihad 2-1 to prove that even the Blues’ home ground is no longer the fortress it once was. Tottenham Hotspur then thrashed City 4-1 at White Hart Lane only a week later. It set a pattern.

The team has proven to be flat-track bullies – terrific at thrashing the minnows, including a 6-1 win over Newcastle United, 5-1 against Bournemouth, 5-1 against Crystal Palace, 4-1 against Sunderland and 4-0 thrashings of Aston Villa, Stoke, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace. The theme is common, but the record against the division’s top teams is shockingly poor:

  • Leicester: 3-1 loss at home, 0-0 draw away
  • Tottenham: 2-1 loss at home, 4-1 loss away
  • Arsenal: 2-2 draw at home, 2-1 loss away
  • Manchester United: 1-0 loss at home, 0-0 draw away
  • West Ham: 2-1 loss at home, 2-2 draw away
  • Southampton: 3-1 win at home, 4-2 loss away
  • Liverpool: 4-1 loss at home, 3-0 loss away

One win, four draws and nine losses in 14 games is a stunning return for a team backed by ambitious and hugely generous owners. City’s aura at home is gone, with the Blues only picking up points against Southampton and Arsenal in matches against top teams this season. Opponents are no longer afraid, and tactical predictability is endemic.

Yet, it wasn’t too long ago that Champions League qualification was all but assured. United’s own crisis of confidence under Louis van Gaal ensured only a late-season ‘race’ between the two Manchester sides for fourth place. City has spent much of the season’s end offering United an opening, only for the Reds to do everything possible to destroy their own campaign in turn.

It is a comedy of errors that leaves both clubs facing an important summer. Sunday will decide which one can enjoy the beach with the Champions League in mind.


NazManUnited - May 11, 2016 Reply

Trying hard but one of us will be unlucky & get 4th 😂

Pint vulger - May 11, 2016 Reply

Double edge sword whilst I passionately ( fucking stupid at my age) want to finish above City,I have to say finishing 4 th does absolutely nothing for me,never has ,never will CL or not.
As far as the bitters are concerned if they are not in the CL ( piss take mayhem) they will probably piss the prem under th new manager.
Both clubs need to have a fucking good look at themselves,embarrasing with the money spent,esp City a massive failure ,not enough is made of it.
A typical end to this shit season ( the fare on show has been very poor) would be for both of us to lose on sunday.

Ralph C - May 12, 2016 Reply

That City lot has properly gone and done a Moyes… – utter crap against the top teams. Sadly, Swansea are not in that category…

Pellegrini will have to want to properly screw Guardiola for us to have a chance now…

Julian - May 12, 2016 Reply

What happened to City this season is probably history now as they will recover. Almost certainly they will end up 4th and in the ECL unlike United. City still have the nucleus of a good team which probably only requires a few additions to get near where they want to be. You’ve alluded to their off-field efforts to provide all the necessary facilities to compete with the best in Europe. This is further enhanced by their acquisition of Guardiola for next season. Unlike United they did not beat about the bush in getting him on board.

Meanwhile United, apart from finishing fifth and failing to gain admission to the ECL, will almost certainly continue with Van Gaal and of course the incompetent Woodward when it comes to acquiring new players. It is incredible that after three seasons since Fergie left, United is probably still under-resourced to the tune of three, four or maybe five players. Woodward’s panic buys have got United nowhere. It’s like starting from scratch.

The contrast in ambition between City and United could not be more stark. The one aspires to be champions of Europe and the other is happy if it gets into the top four of the EPL. In this regard it’s incredible how far United have actually sunk. Isn’t it time the Glazers told Woodward that enough is enough. Up the ante, get rid of the manager or get out yourself. Until that happens the lack of ambition and the continual dithering and obfuscation by Woodward and the Fergie coterie will be with us for some time. The Liverpool example is there for all to see and learn from.

Marco - May 12, 2016 Reply

Can’t argue with that. As for the Glazers telling Woodward what’s what, I can’t see that happening. He has made them a ton of money and he continues to do so. He continues to squeeze out every sponsorship penny he can and you just know that there’s more to be made. Football at United, since the Wizard retired, seems to have taken a back seat. As long as we’re ticking over and grabbing a CL spot, the owners are happy. Our ‘global fan base’ will continue to shell out for stuff (or so the Glazers believe) and that’s all that matters. So far, they haven’t been proved wrong.

If we do finish fifth, I expect Adidas won’t be happy and maybe some others too. They want their products showcased, or at least associated with, the top club competition, not its poor relation. They want to be seen to be backing champions, not has-beens and also-rans. I do think there’s a certain amount of arrogance associated with Woodward and the Glazers, in that they think supporters will keep on supporting, no matter what. During the days of Sir Matt and the Doc, that was the case, but not in 2016.

Getting Mourinho would be a huge statement of intent to counter City’s hiring of Guardiola. The two biggest names in football management today in the same city, challenging for honours. What could be a bigger draw? As for the Liverpool example, well, I don’t know why we keep making that comparison. We went 26 years without winning a league title and, if anything, it was Liverpool who followed the path that we struck all those years ago. Fergie and Gill are on record as saying we would never make again the mistake of 1970. I do wish they’d heed their own words.

Julian - May 13, 2016 Reply

Yes, why indeed should the Glazers worry? United are ranked 3rd richest football club in the world despite being nowhere near that level on where it really matters, on the playing field. Revenues for the first quarter are up 30% year on year and if it continues as before, the club could be ranked No 1 come year end. Again quite reamarkable when there must be at least a dozen if not more teams which are substantially better. In effect United is very much a case of a football institution which is very much resting on its laurels.

The club is in rude good health financially and substantial money will once again be made available for Woodward and Van Gaal to try and continue the team “re-building” which will be going into its fourth season come August!

But that’s the here and now. What about if the gross on field under-performance is prolonged further into the future? Adidas have already made grumbling noises as regards the style of football being dished up – to say nothing of the results. If United fail to get into the Champions League for a second year running, Adidas can impose a 30% penalty on their sponsorship money. Woodward, quite arrogantly, says that can be absorbed. But surely if lack of success and the quality of football continues, with fan disenchantment growing and empty seats becoming more commonplace, revenue streams will start to be affected to an increasing degree. The quality of brand United will continue to be further undermined and sponsorships harder to come by. Perhaps only then will the Glazers wake up and see the consequences of inaction. As an aside its extraordinary that Woodward seems very adept at obtaining sponsorships and all kinds of commercial deals and yet quite the opposite when it comes to player transfers.

In the meantime Woodward and Van Gaal seem joined at the hip. The only outcome that might force the club’s hand regarding replacing LvG is for United to not only miss out on 4th spot but also to lose to Palace in the Cup. No matter what one’s antipathy is towards Van Gaal, no true United fan would wish for that. I must say that even then Van Gaal might still see out his contract!

Given that the Dutchman will almost certainly be with us next year to be followed, quite likely, by the club’s protege Ryan Giggs, it is difficult to see things changing greatly for the foreseeable future. But for how long will this decline be allowed to continue?

Dayusdred - May 13, 2016 Reply

@ Marco are you saying you will support United only when we are successful? You were right. United support in Busby era was not totally based on success. Afterall we were not dominant in those days even though we had best of players in Best, Law and Charlton.(BLC) and we won the first european cup. United support has always been based on the history and tradition such as the sympathy we got from bombing of Old Trafford during the world war, Munich tragedy and our philosophy of giving the youths opportunities are the things that endear us to people. That is why United fan base is broader than any globa club. Its the history and Tradition that give us the edge of liverpool that in all honesty had been equally if not more successful in Europe in particular than us.

Marco - May 13, 2016 Reply

That’s not what I’m saying at all. I went to my first match in 1963 and supported the club, home and away, through all the lean years, including a season in the 2nd Division. I stopped going to games when the Glazers arrived. My post suggested that some of our ‘global fan base’ may decide to switch loyalties if we go through another period of decline.

Julian - May 14, 2016 Reply

@marco – see below

denton Davey - May 13, 2016 Reply

If this is true then it probably means that Jo$e isn’t coming to OT and which, in turn, means there will be another year of angst-and-loathing of the “philosphofee” as well as the preference given to the likes of AV25, MrBlowJob, AshleyBloodyYoung, MrJones, and, of course, TheWayneBoy.

Woe is us !

Julian - May 14, 2016 Reply

I think that would be the case for some who have only known the post early 90’s period of success. Unlike us of an older vintage they do not know what “lean years” means. It’s a totally foreign concept. The club is naturally wanting to expand its market share globally and it will find this more difficult the longer United are not at the top domestically and virtually out of the picture in terms of Europe.

Marco - May 14, 2016 Reply

Indeed. Well put.

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