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City Xtra's Manchester City Season Review 2021/22 - Part Three

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City Xtra's Manchester City Season Review 2021/22 - Part Three

February - Politics in football

We’ve got good news to begin the month, as Joao Cancelo puts pen to paper on a new deal which will see him stay at the club for five more years.

As a player who has been somewhat of a journeyman throughout his career, struggling to really find a home in the four or five years before joining City, it’s great to see that he’s been able to consider City somewhere that he can envisage his long term future. Particularly in the middle of a season where he’s been one of the best players in the team by this point.

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There were concerns that his enthusiasm for life in Manchester might be dampened when he and his family were attacked in their home in December but I, and every other City fan around, am extremely happy to see him stay. He’s the most complete full-back in world football, capable of the attacking output of a certain scouse full-back, with the defensive capabilities to boot. Plus he can play on either side of the defence. He’s invaluable.

It’s positive on the academy front too, as James McAtee puts a lot of speculation around his future to bed by signing a new contract.

He’s then rewarded for this show of loyalty to the club with 72 minutes of first team football between then at the end of the season. I’m sure he regrets absolutely nothing about his decision as rumours of a loan out to the Championship swirl around him going into the summer window.

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Amidst the new deals, there’s also rumours going round that Bernardo is feeling much more happy and comfortable with life in Manchester, presumably helped no end by the pandemic effectively being over at this point as far as restrictions are concerned, and that there are positive feelings around the idea of him signing a new deal.

Has there been any significant update since then? Shh, we don’t need to think about that.

Jack Grealish warms even my cold, dead heart as he greets a fan on entry to the Etihad Stadium, taking some time out of his day to sign a shirt and have a picture with her where many players often don’t in these situations.

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I had my reservations about Jack Grealish as a person before signing him, mainly because my opinion of him was mostly informed by tabloids and driving incidents, but we’ve got a good one here. Just a genuinely top lad.

Sergio Aguero gives his first interview about the prospect of Manchester City signing Julian Alvarez and, as one of the greatest Argentinian strikers who’s ever lived, it’s fair to say that his seal of approval immediately convinces me that Alvarez is going to be a much bigger deal than we may have anticipated when we signed this guy.

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He also watches Alvarez score for River and, in true Aguero fashion, it’s very entertaining.

On the football front, City follow a comfortable win over Fulham in the FA Cup with a 2-0 win against Brentford and Thomas Frank immediately makes himself an enemy of the people of Liverpool by declaring that it is, in fact, Manchester City who are the greatest team in the world.

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Jurgen Klopp then makes himself an enemy of the people of Liverpool by saying that Liverpool aren’t close to City in the title race.

You know what? He’s probably right. Liverpool aren’t going to catch City, because City are just too good.

Ah yes. The Spurs game. A game I’d mercifully managed to wipe from my memory until sitting down to write this piece. I think we can all agree that Manchester City will never, ever go invincible in the Premier League as long as Spurs exist because they appear to have some kind of voodoo curse over us.

Annoyingly, it was Harry Kane who stole the show with two goals, including a painful 95th minute winner after it looked for all the world like Mahrez had snatched a point with a penalty in the 92nd minute. I’m sure he’ll look back on that “scored a late winner against the team that I could have joined the previous summer” trophy when he retires with real fondness, because it’s the only trophy that he’ll have.

Pep then makes the bold claim that the title race isn’t over, which is ridiculous, because it clearly is.

Elsewhere, in the Champions League, City brutally assault Sporting 5-0 in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16, ensuring that we can play the most second string of second string teams in the return leg at the Etihad.

Haaland-watch takes it up a notch once again as City are reported to be favourites to secure the gangly blonde man’s signature. Who needs Harry Kane after all?

Then, at the end of the month, the world is rocked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Buckle up, boys, I’m about to criticise Manchester City.

Oleksandr Zinchenko, at 25 years old, has taken much of this burden on himself during the invasion. As the captain of Ukraine’s national team, the way he’s handled himself throughout the entire ordeal, to this day, has endeared him to people up and down the country, and across the world, in a way that he thoroughly deserves.

Zinchenko has had the full backing of his teammates, his manager and the fans. Everybody around the club supports him and feels a huge sense of pride to have him at our football club. It’s a maturity and a steeliness which makes footballers not only great athletes but also great people.

In the political world, UAE abstained from a vote in the UN to condemn Russian action in Ukraine. Do I like it? No. Are there political motivations to do it? Probably, I’m not a geopolitics expert. In a normal world, I’d not even be commenting on this whatsoever because the actions of the UAE government, of which Sheikh Mansour is a Deputy Prime Minister (I can already hear the Sheikh Mansour defence force preparing their replies as I write this), should have absolutely no bearing on what Manchester City do as a football club or how they operate. And 99.99% of the time, this is absolutely true.

I believe it’s no coincidence, however, that whilst the likes of Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid showed their support for Ukraine on social media, Manchester City have not shown one outwardly public bit of support for Ukraine on their socials. Not even a message of support for Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Search now - look for the word Ukraine, or even a Ukraine flag emoji, from Manchester City since the Russian invasion kicked off and all you’ll find is a few International Round-Ups in which Zinchenko’s service for his national team is mentioned. The football club which the captain of the Ukraine national team plays for has shown zero public support for Ukraine, which to me is absolutely mental.

There can be no explanation for it, in my mind, other than policy, interference, dictating, whatever you want to call it, from the very higher echelons of Manchester City’s ownership structure because their biggest and most visible asset cannot be seen to condemn Russia when it’s inconvenient for them politically. And yes, Sheikh Mansour being the Deputy Prime Minister of UAE means that political policy which affects the nation of UAE is probably his legitimate concern. I’m sorry if that’s inconvenient for you.

I genuinely don’t often think that Sheikh Mansour’s ownership, and the political state of the country that he resides in, has anything to do with Manchester City at all. It’s totally separate in my mind, it’s not something that’s really for me to think about. In this instance, however, it was very obvious that it did have an impact on City.

I’m sure Zinchenko sought, and no doubt received, assurances from the likes of Khaldoon around this time and I’m sure they showed support in plenty of other ways, obviously the players and Pep Guardiola made reference to it in interviews and press conferences, and happily wore shirts to decry the entire thing, but as far as the public-facing side of things from the club is concerned, they showed none.

Genuinely, look at City’s Twitter activity from the day of the Everton game which ends the month. That game was filled with Ukraine support from players and fans, with emotional scenes from Zinchenko and Mykolenko. If you looked at City’s timeline, you’d have no idea it ever happened. And, as a fan, that let me down.

Ending the month on a lighter note, the Everton game which rounded off February was a great source of entertainment, mainly for one single moment which bubbled the bladders of every single scouser across the land.

The best thing about this? This is handball. It’s mental that this wasn’t given. And it’s absolutely glorious.

March - Manchester is blue (again)

Manchester City are drawn against Peterborough in the FA Cup. I’m not sure who Peterborough are though, can anybody help me?

Zinchenko captains the team for the game, in a great show of support by his teammates. City make hard work of it but they win 2-0 in the end.

In some more top Zinchenko content, he gives a passionate, brave interview to the BBC about the situation in Ukraine, cementing himself as one of the important Ukrainian voices in the world as he uses his considerable platform to speak out about Russia’s invasion.

There’s a slight dampener, however, as Ruben Dias picks up an injury which is set to rule him out for the next month or more, including crucial ties against Atlético Madrid in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League.

No Walker and no Dias against Atlético Madrid. This is going to be an interesting one to say the least.

But first, the Manchester Derby against a Ralf Rangnick side in absolute freefall at this point. Needless to say, the battering is glorious but, honestly, there’s almost, almost, something a bit boring about it because United are just so utterly terrible that it’s genuinely expected. They’re basically not trying to put up an opposition. But, of course, it’s United, so it’s hilarious nonetheless.

The first game against United was utter technical brilliance from City and was just a demonstration of how high City have ascended in the decade since Ferguson left them in the lurch. This game, however, was a demonstration of how catastrophically bad things have been allowed to get at United. It’s honestly wonderful. Their failure is so varied and so complete that it simply cannot be matched.

Few City fans embody this joy at United’s downfall quite as much as Micah Richards, who does his best to try and make Roy Keane explode in the Sky Sports studio by constantly laughing as Keane rips into the lack of effort from United’s players.

As if that wasn’t good enough, reports about Haaland start to get louder and louder. Jack Gaughan confirms that City are preparing the finances to activate the buyout clause and that they are very much the frontrunners for the deal to go through should they do so. It’s about to get even better for the blues.

The final game of the month is against Southampton in the FA Cup, with Phil Foden producing a ridiculous finish.

City are through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where they will face none other than… Liverpool. City’s April starts to look pretty congested, with a four-match run of Atlético, Liverpool, Atlético, Liverpool, across three competitions. Brilliant. Just what we all need - more games against Liverpool.

Liverpool continue to pile through win after win and, as they catch up their games in hand, the table starts to look like we might be close to having a title race after all.

Premier League table, March 2022
Premier League table, March 2022

April - King Kev

As the days tick over into April, there is a rumble across Manchester as, somewhere in a very nice house in (presumably) Cheshire, Kevin De Bruyne prepares himself for the biggest moment of his career to date.

He gets to work in his home gym and sits the family down, telling them that their dad might not be quite as attentive as he used to be for the next six weeks, as he has important work to do.

Then, he does it.

He creates a TikTok account.

He also decides to become the greatest footballer in the world for a couple of months. The first team to suffer his wrath is Burnley as he hits what is basically just a ridiculous volley into the top corner in the first five minutes to put any concerns about Liverpool’s win earlier that day to bed.


Then, in the first leg of the Champions League Quarter Final against Atlético Madrid, the game has turned into an arduous task. Atléti are doing what they do best and making the game an uphill struggle until Phil Foden is brought off the bench and plays a killer pass to, well, to I even need to tell you?

The game is followed by a match-up against Liverpool in a game which has become all-but officially a title decider. City can realistically afford to win or draw, as the advantage remains with City in this case, however a defeat would put a huge dent in City’s chances of winning the race.

So who decides to bag a goal in the first five minutes once again?

At this stage of the season, every game is a huge game and there’s nobody in our squad more suited to the big occasions than our lovely strawberry blonde Belgian prince.

Unfortunately, there’s nobody less suited to the big occasions than Premier League referees, as Fabinho somehow manages to get away with multiple yellow card level tackles and one that’s very fortunate not to just be a straight red. Thiago is also lucky to get away with a few risky challenges. Still, Anthony Taylor is from Altrincham, so clearly Liverpool were right to be concerned about any sort of bias in this game.

Gabriel Jesus, fresh off the back of reports that he wants to leave the club in the summer, scores a brilliant goal in which he clips the ball over the Greatest Keeper in the World™ but unfortunately City can’t prevent Liverpool from scoring two goals of their own as the defence switches off in a couple of crucial moments. The game ends 2-2 and City keep top spot in the league and, once again, it’s confirmed that this title race is well and truly over. I’m telling you, just give us the trophy now. It’s done!

A nice moment comes after the game, where you get a brief glimpse at the relationship that Pep and Klopp share as they talk about family between interviews. This comes after Pep Guardiola rather enthusiastically bear hugs Klopp on the final whistle. There might not be much (any) love between the clubs at boardroom level and certainly not the fans (although this is only one-sided, obviously), but the two managers clearly have a lot of time for one another.

After the game, Pep calls out the media for being big ol’ liars about the “14 point gap” City had opened up on Liverpool, a gap which Liverpool fans will happily continue to claim existed to this day, which obviously did not exist because it didn’t factor in the multiple games in hand Liverpool had on City. Let’s not let that get in the way of a good narrative though, ey? 

Jack Gaughan comes with the transfer sauce once again, only this time it’s about our wonderful baldy boy, Pep. Apparently the club is starting to feel that Pep sees his long term future at the club and, with Klopp signing a new deal of his own in April, there’s surely a competitive incentive to make sure that Liverpool and Klopp don’t run away with it themselves.

Where are we at with this today? Well, let’s not think about that.

Then comes the game of the season. Atlético Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.

The football? Ah who cares about the football. It’s all about the drama here. Pure box office Champions League action.

As you can imagine, in a second leg of a game where they currently have a one goal deficit, the Diego Simeone managed side goes about the game the only way they know - pure shithousery. They spend the vast majority of the game rolling around on the floor and time-wasting as much as is humanly possible, whilst pulling out every single dirty trick in the book in regards to their fouling, which they manage to get away with for the most part because, well, Champions League referees.

This isn’t really necessarily the problem. It’s a tactic which works well for them a lot of the time, even though it obviously isn’t this time, which actually makes it funnier that they’re still persisting with it. It’s not leading to them getting a lot of the ball and the chances they create aren’t very high quality, as they end the first half with 0.02 xG and end the game with 0.83 to City’s 0.84.

But then the game really sparks into life as, with about 10-15 minutes to go, City decide to ramp up the time-wasting of their own. As Atléti decide that now is the time to actually start trying to score, City start buying cheap fouls and breaking up the play in a way that Diego Simeone would be proud of.

Only Diego Simeone is not proud. Not one bit.

His team take matters into their own hands and, as Phil Foden breaks clear down the left, the already-booked Felipe makes the kind of slide tackle that you make when you’re actually praying you also clatter the man as well as the ball. Foden jumps over Felipe, leaving him with little option but to swipe out with a kick immediately afterwards.

Savic is not happy at all with the fact that Foden is (correctly) milking this tackle for all it’s worth and immediately starts grabbing his shirt to try and drag him to his feet, which doesn’t go down very well with everybody on the pitch. Pretty soon there’s a crowd of players from both teams and both benches as Stefan Savic, who famously managed to leech a Premier League winner’s medal from the club in 2012 despite being one of the worst centre-backs I’ve ever seen play for the club since Mansour’s arrival, has gone into the red zone and is now just screaming at anybody who happens to be in his eyeline.

Meanwhile, Felipe receives his second yellow card and he’s now going off the deep end despite the foul clearly being worthy of a second yellow and even his own teammates, even the raging bull that is Stefan Savic, is trying to tell him to just get off the pitch so they can actually try to win the game, seeing as they’ve already managed to waste nearly four minutes in this melee.

The best is yet to come, as the replays clearly show that John Stones can be seen mouthing, “Calm down, you don’t wanna get sent off” to Stefan Savic, before Jack Grealish leans over his shoulder and matter-of-factly tells him that he’s a very naughty word indeed.

Savic responds by pulling Grealish’s hair and, somehow, escapes any punishment once the brawl is finally dispersed.

By this point, the Wanda is in pure meltdown as Simeone starts rousing the crowd and sarcastically applauding the referees as if his team have been really hard done by. Bizarrely, the crowd at the Wanda respond well to this, such is the cultish grip that Simeone has over the fanbase, rather than wondering why their one of their players saw fit to get sent off when it looked like they were starting to turn the screw and then why their entire team decided to waste nearly five minutes in a pointless brawl.

The game ends but the drama definitely doesn’t, as it continues in the tunnel, with Atléti players having to be held back in the tunnel from trying to decapitate City’s team, with Scott Carson hilariously offering out Simon Vrsaljko for a scrap in the car park.

Naturally, UEFA decide that it’s City’s players who were totally out of order throughout the entire debacle and the club are charged with failing to control their players. Atlético Madrid, I hear you ask? No punishment. Nothing wrong with what they did apparently.

Still, UEFA love City, remember? Remember when CAS had to overturn their attempt to ban us from all European competitions? Clear proof that UEFA are big fans of City.

City lose in the FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool but, honestly, in the context of the games surrounding it and the competitions which were also on the line, who cares? It’s the least important of the three remaining competitions and City were right to rotate. Zack Steffen doesn’t have the best game of his career and the two goals City score flatters them somewhat but I genuinely couldn’t care less.

More importantly, in this month’s edition of Haaland-watch, Pol Ballús confirms that Haaland has indicated to City that he sees them as his preferred option.

This is basically as good as Pep and his coaching team saying that Haaland has said he’s good to go. It looks like a striker is very soon to be back on the menu, boys.

And so we come to the Semi Final of the Champions League, this time against Atlético’s local rivals, Real Madrid. And who else should step up for the first goal of the night within the first few minutes of the match? That’s right. It’s bloody Kev.

The game becomes a bit of a basketball match, it’s proper entertainment. I might not have much love for the Champions League as a competition from the perspective of being desperate for City to win it, I never really have been, but I cannot deny that it produces some of the most entertaining matches in the calendar.

Gabi Jesus, still going strong in the City squad, as he basically has done ever since making it clear that he wants to leave, absolutely spins Alaba and side-foots it in to make it 2-0. City go on to absolutely dominate the game and should genuinely score about ten. Madrid are lucky to still be in the game as it ends 4-3, with the pick of City’s goals coming from Bernardo Silva for City’s fourth.

Still, City were missing some key players through injury, most notably Kyle Walker, and we’ve shown that we can batter Madrid and create chances. Chelsea put three past them at the Bernabeu. What could possibly go wrong?

The best content comes from Aguero, however, as he’s watching the game on his stream (joined mostly by Mario Balotelli, for some hilarious reason), with him absolutely loving life when Foden scores to make it 3-1.


“Gol, de Phil Foden, carajo! My prince, my prince charming!”

 Elsewhere, the U21s win the PL2. 

McAtee and Delap have proved over the course of the season that this level of football is absolutely beneath them, yet it’s difficult to see where they both fit into the current City squad. I assume that the club will see making a combined £25-30 million on the two of them to be great business for the club, but realistically we’d all like to see at least one of them make it into the first team at some point.

Some comfortable wins over Brighton, Watford and Leeds ensure that City keep their lead at the top of the table as the month ends. I’m telling you, it’s over.


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Featured Image Credit: REUTERS / Alamy

Topics: Manchester City, Premier League, Football

Joe Butterfield
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