Manchester City’s 2015/16 campaign was summed up last Tuesday after their 1-1 draw against Newcastle United at St James’ Park. After a series of positive results against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, City slumped to another negative result against a side in serious danger of relegation.
That means that in away games against the bottom three in the Premier League, City have picked up just five points from a possible nine. Manuel Pellegrini’s men somehow could only manage a goalless draw at Aston Villa – who are one of the worst teams the Premier League has seen. They recorded a narrow win against Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland side at the Stadium of Light and were perhaps fortunate to come away with a point against the Magpies last week.
It’s also worth noting that City also had a stalemate against out of form Norwich City at Carrow Road, who are also battling relegation. This has been the story of the season for City. Too often they have been outfought and in many cases outplayed against sides who on paper are inferior – Newcastle being the latest example.
City started fairly brightly and went ahead through Sergio Aguero, who despite looking offside, notched his 100th Premier League goal for the club. But Newcastle were the far better side for large spells and Karl Darlow in the Toon goal wasn’t called upon on too many occasions. Vurnon Anita’s first-half equaliser was deserved and City would have left the North East empty-handed had it not been for some inspired goalkeeping from Joe Hart.
Again the same problems came into play – a lack of ideas in attack, casual defending and a lack of balance in the team. It’s these exact problems that Pep Guardiola will need to rectify in the summer. Granted City were not helped by injuries to the creative powers that are David Silva and Samir Nasri, as well as regular defenders Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy. The latter two would have been ideal for dealing with a Newcastle side playing with a high intensity and aggression – Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov, though useful going forward, can be undone far too often down their respective flanks.
It was particularly disappointing to drop points at Newcastle because City had begun to get on back on track and were in an excellent run of form, buoyed by multiple returns and the memorable win over PSG in the Champions League. They had also climbed to third in the table and looked good value to once again mix it up with Europe’s best.
Of course, there’s still a good chance that they are in next season’s Champions League, but a win here would have made life much easier. The display away at Chelsea was among the best City have produced this campaign, featuring the frighteningly good talents of Kevin De Bruyne, Nasri and Aguero.
But the draw with Newcastle was clearly very different and perfectly summed up City’s season – sweeping away Chelsea with relative ease and then playing within themselves against one of the league’s worst sides. Quite frankly, City are not a well-oiled machine and haven’t been under boss Pellegrini.
His managerial style means that he takes the same approach for every game and hopes that City’s overall quality will shine through. However, teams have sussed City out and have found a formula to beat them – as demonstrated by their current league position.
Yet there’s a high chance that it won’t be the case next season under the guidance of Guardiola, who pays attention to all the fine details and will treat every game differently. An ability to reach the same level for a prolonged period is the primary problem in this City side; but with fresh faces in the summer, the story may well be very different.