Manchester City are champions of England. So why does it still feel like a season of disappointment?
About three months earlier, I had smugly written a piece arguing that it was a mistake for the Citizens to renew Pep Guardiola’s contract. While I did not go as far as to label him a ‘chequebook manager’, or a ‘bald fraud’ – terms bandied about by many of Guardiola’s detractors – it was still a chastening experience to be proved so wrong by the Spaniard.
Imagine my relief then, when the final whistle at the Estádio do Dragão in Portugal blew to signal City’s defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final last weekend. Maybe I’m on to something after all.
WATCH: Guardiola praises his players despite Champions League final defeat
Now, to clear up any possible misunderstandings, I have absolutely nothing against City. In fact, as an Arsenal fan, I would very much have preferred for them to win the Champions League over our London rivals Chelsea. They’re like the infinitely richer version of Leicester City, in that you’ll likely never run into one of their fans in this part of the world, and so won’t have to endure months of gloating from their conceited legion of supporters. (I’m looking at you, Liverpool and Manchester United fans.)
Unlike most other fans, I also don’t really care that they’ve spent such an obscene amount of money building their squad that there are probably videos of their bank transactions on Pornhub. If their owner wants to buy success, good for him. It’s not as if the rest of the EPL club owners aren’t filthy rich themselves and can’t spend money to strengthen their teams. (I’m looking at you, Kroenke.)
But I’ve always felt that Guardiola does better over the duration of a season, and tends to struggle with the knockout nature of cup competitions. Yes, you can point to his success in the Carabao Cup and say that I’m talking out of my hat. But I’ll also point to his success in the Carabao Cup and ask: who the hell cares?
Okay, maybe Spurs fans do.
Nonetheless, there is something about cup competitions that tends to bring out the worst in Guardiola – in particular, his habit of overthinking things and coming up with an overly-convoluted tactical plan, especially in the latter stages of the competition.
I mean, when you look at the quality that this City side boast, it’s a wonder that Guardiola doesn’t just send them all out for every game with the instructions: Go wild.
Guardiola’s penchant for coming up with a ‘tactical masterplan’ has almost always backfired, and it was the case again for City in the Champions League final.
Having played with at least one deep-lying midfielder in Rodri or Fernandinho throughout the season, Guardiola decided that the final would be the perfect time to spring a surprise on Chelsea and not include either of them in his starting line-up.
WATCH: Fernandinho - the Premier League's greatest Brazilian?
I’m certain that decision did surprise Chelsea. Unfortunately, it also seemed to surprise City themselves, who failed to adapt to playing without either Rodri or Fernandinho in the middle of the park – understandable, really, when you consider that’s the system that they’re most familiar with, having played used it ALL SEASON LONG.
Perhaps what’s most disappointing for City is that they didn’t miss out on winning their maiden Champions League trophy by losing the final to a Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich.
No, they lost to a team who barely scraped into fourth place in the EPL. A team who barely a week before the final had lost to Aston Villa in one of the most important games of their season. A team who had recently lost the FA Cup final to Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester.
This was a Chelsea side that was struggling. It should have been a cinch for City to beat them, N’Golo Kante or not.
That City failed to do so means this season will still go down as somewhat unsatisfactory.
But what about winning the EPL title? Surely that must count for something?
WATCH: Man City celebrate winning the Premier League title
Yes, little voice in my head, it does. But it doesn’t count for a lot when you consider that their closest challengers were their inconsistent neighbours United, who finished a sizeable 12 points behind them.
Liverpool, with their horrendous injury record this season, had effectively dropped out of the title race by February, while Chelsea came about as close to lifting the EPL trophy as I did to dating Emma Watson. The less said about the other two members of the ‘Big Six’, Arsenal and Spurs, the better.
So, what next for City then? Having already committed to Guardiola, the only thing they can really change is their playing personnel, so I fully expect City owner Shiekh Mansour to send across containers of million-dollar bills to the Etihad Stadium soon.
A squad refresh might be on the cards for City. They need a new striker to take over the mantle of the outgoing Sergio Aguero, while there are rumours that Raheem Sterling, who recently found a new boot sponsor in New Balance – he now wears the bespoke New Balance Furon v6+ boots on matchdays – will soon find himself a new club.
WATCH: Check out Raheem Sterling's 10 EPL goals from the 2020/2021 season
Building around a precocious talent like Foden might be the way to go for Guardiola. In a team of stars. the 21-year-old has been one of the standout players for City this season, and there is every chance that he will get even better in the next campaign.
But perhaps the most important investment that City can make this summer is on a psychologist to convince Guardiola to stop overthinking things.
Do that, then the coveted Champions League trophy will surely follow.
Overall grade 2020/21: B+
2020/2021 Season review