Manchester City's 2012-13 Premier League campaign never really got going.
After the momentous high of Sergio Aguero's last-second title winner the season before, Roberto Mancini and his assembled team of superstars were largely expected to dominate as champions. With one game remaining they have limply relinquished the title to Manchester United and sit a disappointing 10 points behind their local rivals.
How did Manchester City fall so short of the Premier League summit this year? Why are they not celebrating another famous victory and enjoying a second consecutive stint as English champions? The reasons are plentiful.
While the Etihad remains a fortress, City's away form consistently threatened to overpower their title credentials throughout the season. Early draws at Liverpool and Stoke suggested the team could be rattled away from home. As the season progressed, further draws against West Ham, Chelsea and Swansea underlined a squad that failed to shift through the gears when apart from its home crowd.
Away losses to Sunderland, Southampton, Everton and Tottenham all held their own significance. Personal mistakes hampered City's chance of progress and placed individual members of the squad under huge pressure.
As detailed here, Manchester City can equal United's 48 home points with a final-day victory over Norwich. City accumulated 33 points on the road compared to United's 40 (rising to 43 if they overcome West Brom). This is not only disappointing in comparison to the champions; City's away stats fail to impress alongside other competitors.
Chelsea and Spurs have managed to grab 34 points away from home this season. Arsenal have 32 with a game remaining and Liverpool suffered just one more defeat throughout the year. Although City's entire team has failed to perform with the same power and verve as 2011-12, individual mistakes have also cost them at a shot at the trophy.
Joe Hart's error saw Sunderland's Adam Johnson—a former City player—squirm the ball into the opposition's net for a much-needed 1-0 win. The goalkeeper has been responsible for plenty of high-profile errors across the season, but he isn't the sole culprit to blame.
With a Hart mishap already confirmed in the loss to Southampton, Gareth Barry decided to pass the ball into his own net, and Samir Nasri ducked away from Robin van Persie's late free kick to hand Manchester United a 3-2 victory at the Etihad. It's telling that United's defining moments are triumphant and City's laden with errors.
Former manager Roberto Mancini—who was sacked for his inability to meet any of Sheikh Mansour's goals—also made a handful of rash decisions (via BBC). The Italian is usually such a cool and collected character, but this year his reactionary decisions seemed desperate.
Mancini often decided to switch City's defensive four to a back three when under the cosh. Although City worked on this lineup during preseason, using the formation effectively is largely unheard of in the Premier League. Implementing it when the team is already losing also outlines a sense of panic that wasn't apparent before Mancini's men became champions.
The outgoing boss made a number of strange personnel selections when City's squad began to stretch. With Vincent Kompany sent off against Arsenal, Mancini drafted Javi Garcia into central defence for the games against QPR and Southampton. Although City left Loftus Road with a 0-0 draw, the Spaniard's shortcomings in this position came to the fore when playing against the rampant Saints.
What made the decision to play Garcia as a centre-back more baffling? Kolo Toure—who put in some decent displays during the season—loitered on the bench.
This example highlights Mancini's odd use of new signings throughout the 2012-13 campaign. Big money was spent on Garcia, Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair, but none made an impact. Although Rodwell's lack of presence should be put down to his injury problems, Garcia and Sinclair represent wasted money on a number of levels.
Garcia has never shown himself to be as combative and intense as Nigel De Jong. Despite leaving for Milan back in August 2012, City have struggled to replace the Dutchman aggressiveness in midfield (via The Telegraph). Sinclair has made just two Premier League starts since joining City and hasn't been able to fill his manager with confidence for extended time on the pitch.
Last year, Adam Johnson always gave City a wide option from the bench. This year that role has been filled by the less explosive James Milner. Many might say City's inability to land Robin van Persie had a great effect on the season, but in reality, Mancini's signings were never good enough to ensure instant success; not when many of the club's rivals strengthened considerably.
Manchester City's downfall was therefore a complex one. Poor away form, tactical mishaps and insufficient transfer dealings set the club up for a year of hurt. Even so, Roberto Mancini should consider himself extremely unfortunate to fall under the axe, as he certainly deserved time to establish a dynasty at the club.
One has to wonder if such a sacking is the first mistake on a painful 2013-14, as well.
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All statistics in this article are courtesy of Whoscored.
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