Manchester City’s attempt to claim an unprecedented third consecutive Premier League title appears to have fallen by the wayside, as they finish 2019 with manager Pep Guardiola admitting that the title race is over.
A selection of key injuries combined with Liverpool’s sheer relentlessness and ruthlessness have contributed to the gap between themselves and Jurgen Klopp’s side currently amounting to 14 points.
However, City still find themselves in a cup semi-final, and have topped their Champions League group, playing some stunning football along the way.
As 2019 draws to a close, here’s 90min’s assessment of an opening half of the season where City have fallen just short of the incredibly high bar that they have set themselves.
A dramatic defeat at Wolves on 27th December, a result that meant the Midlands side had completed the double over Manchester City this season, has left Pep Guardiola’s side chasing a seemingly insurmountable points gap at the Premier League summit.
While Liverpool lost out on the title last season because they drew too many matches, for Man City losing games has been the problem this year. The Citizens have already slipped to five defeats, having only lost six games in two years across their two title winning campaigns.
Despite costly losses to Wolves, Norwich, Manchester United and Liverpool, there have been positives in the league. City were ruthless as they hammered Watford 8-0, and demonstrated their resilience in a 2-1 comeback win over Southampton.
Although arguably a disappointing league campaign thus far by City’s stupidly high standards, they still sit comfortably in the Champions League places.
Although another Premier League crown would have gone down nicely at City, what the club are really hungry for is Champions League glory. On that side of things this season, it has been so far so good. City navigated a straight forward group with ease and are undefeated in Europe this season. However, a tough last 16 draw against Real Madrid awaits.
Victory over Oxford booked Manchester City a spot in the Carabao Cup semi-finals. City will face their Manchester rivals for a place in the final, as they aim to lift the Carabao for the third successive season.
Oh, and City also won the Community Shield.
Undoubtably, City’s style of play and attacking prowess is their key asset. Pep Guardiola’s side are the Premier League’s top scorers with 52 goals from just 19 games.
Raheem Sterling has already found the net 11 times this season, while Sergio Aguero has nine goals to his name. When City attack at pace, you cannot help but fear for their opponents.
Even with injury to Leroy Sane, this is a hugely exciting Manchester City team with goals all over the pitch.
Unfortunately, goals have also come in their floods at the wrong end. City’s defensive frailties are a huge factor contributing to their failure to mount a serious title challenge.
City have conceded 23 goals in 19 matches this season; Liverpool, Leicester, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace have all conceded fewer.
Vincent Kompany’s retirement and the long term injury to Aymeric Laporte have proved costly. Fernandinho has been forced to deputise in defence, but without the Brazilian sweeping up in midfield, City have looked exposed at the back.
Areas to Address in January
City need to sign at least one central defender to address their defensive vulnerabilities. Not replacing Kompany appears to be a huge error of judgement, especially following the injury to Laporte. However, the Frenchman is expected to return towards the end of January.
John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi do not seem to be trusted by Guardiola, particularly after the pair’s calamitous showing against Norwich at the start of the season. A top class centre-back should be top of Guardiola’s shopping list.
Kevin de Bruyne has been pretty special for Manchester City this season. The Belgian playmaker leads the Premier League assists chart, having created 11 goals so far this campaign. De Bruyne’s range of passing and vision is remarkable, which were shown off to devastating effect in his side’s 8-0 thrashing of Watford, with two fabulous balls for David Silva and Bernardo Silva to bury.
The 28-year-old has also hit six goals this season, including two stunning long range strikes against Arsenal. With De Bruyne in their ranks, City are more than capable of realising their European ambitions.
It will be tight in the race to finish runners up to Liverpool this season between City and Leicester and, although the Champions League could prove a distraction for Pep Guardiola’s team, they should just about edge out Brendan Rodgers’ side to second place.
A two legged Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United could prove difficult, but City will be keen to get their first piece of silverware in the cabinet and avenge their December derby defeat.
The Champions League is the one City are really after, but both the club and Guardiola have enjoyed little luck in the competition in recent seasons, and could fall just short once more.
Progression in the FA Cup should be routine with a home draw against League Two outfit Port Vale. From then on it’s all down to the luck of the draw, but do not expect the holders to relinquish their title easily.
Premier League: 2nd
Carabao Cup: Winners
Champions League: Semi-finals
FA Cup: Winners
For almost any other Premier League side, being in Manchester City’s position would be considered a roaring success. However, the Citizens have set staggeringly high standards, and will be disappointed to already be out of the title race.
However, their cup form and goal scoring offers reason to be cheerful. The success of the season hangs their Champions League success.