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

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

August - Kane's not able

It’s fair to say that August wasn’t Manchester City’s best month of the season, at least certainly not off the pitch.

June and July had felt like there was a sense of inevitability about City’s transfer business, with Jack Grealish marked very early on for being one of the top targets of the summer. In the first week of August, the Brummie’s signature was secured for an English record fee of £100 million.

Jack Grealish. (Credit: PA)
Jack Grealish. (Credit: PA)
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The other piece of business which Manchester City were nailed on for was a striker, and the previous months had felt like there was only one man who was on the radar - Harry Kane. His brother and agent - the now infamous Charlie Kane - had assured Manchester City that a now infamous gentleman’s agreement had been made with the now infamous Daniel Levy and that a deal of roughly £100 million would eventually be enough to secure the England captain’s services. Manchester City journalists, in-the-knows and podcasters were unanimous - this deal was happening.

Reports emerged of this £100 million bid that Manchester City had made and Manchester City fans up and down the country felt as though it was finally happening, City were replacing Sergio Aguero with a top level striker. Harry Kane suddenly failed to reappear for pre-season fitness tests with Spurs, with his representatives making sure that everybody in the media knew exactly what this was - Harry Kane was going on strike to force a move away from the club.

Then the backlash came. Fans and pundits up and down the country were appalled that England’s captain would behave in such a way. Within 24 hours, the Harry Kane camp had bottled it and were telling people that they were confused by the backlash, as this was actually a planned extended holiday that the club was fully aware of.

By the end of the week, Kane himself took to social media to protest his innocence and this was the moment when I knew the transfer was dead.

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If there’s one thing you don’t do when you’re forcing a move away from a club (which he absolutely was), it’s reaffirm your love for the fans of the club you’re currently at halfway through. If Harry Kane had any half-decent representation during this whole saga, he’d have a Premier League winner’s medal round his neck right now at the very least, maybe even more. Instead, he’s going to end his career as Spurs’ record goalscorer. Maybe the Premier League’s record goalscorer. But he’ll have no trophies to show for it.

Kane wanted to have his cake and eat it. He wanted to remain England’s golden boy and have his reputation with his boyhood club remain intact as he left them for Manchester City, the one club that absolutely no fans in the Premier League outside of the blue half of Manchester will ever be happy with their players joining. As soon as the press attention on the transfer became slightly negative, as Kane took the first risk of his life, he soiled himself and found himself having an existential crisis for the next four or five months of his career, during which time he scored only a handful of goals.

Above all else, it was the incompetence of his representatives (otherwise known as his family) that has made Daniel Levy so irritated by the way they had gone about their business, effectively assuring City they could get him at a cut-price, that made Levy dig his heels in and set the £150 million asking price, which City were never going to pay. Now it appears that the ship has set sail on the big move in his career.

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It would have all been worth it just to watch Harry Kane attempt to say the word “City” several times during his announcement interview but, alas, we’ll never get that now.

Kalvin Phillips in action for the England National Team
Kalvin Phillips in action for the England National Team

Moving into the football, it didn’t really improve for Manchester City in that opening game of the season as the narrative gods decided that the first game of the season was going to be against Spurs at the dreaded Tottenham Hotspur-NFL-Boxing-Rugby-Music Stadium. Spurs lined up without Harry Kane, as they couldn’t know for certain at this point which net he’d try to put it in, so City were in for an easy ride as Spurs were without the 2020/21 top scorer/assister.

So, naturally, it ended 1-0 to Spurs. Who else but Son Heung-Min. At least during this game in particular, the shooting stats were somewhat even. The xG wars, however, raged on as City’s 2.24 xG went without reward, whereas Spurs’ 1.06 resulted in the goal it earned.

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City then went on to destroy Norwich 5-0 and really stuck it to Spurs by dishing out another 5-0 to Arsenal the week after, in a move which inadvertently gifted Spurs top four later in the season. It almost feels like it wasn’t worth it.

Interestingly, the scoring in that game was opened by an Ilkay Gundogan back post header. Never really associated Gundogan with scoring headers before. I’m sure this will just be a one-off.

At the end of the month, Harry Kane signified once and for all, as if it wasn’t already abundantly clear, that he was going to be staying at Spurs. It was totally his choice, of course, the fact that City had long-since pulled out of any deal by this point is totally irrelevant. He did it for the love of the Spurs fans, nothing more. Honest.

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Instead, rumours started to fire up that a certain Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to leave Juventus because, well, he just didn’t like it anymore. Juve were apparently desperate to get rid, mainly because the man costs the club the GDP of a small country in weekly wages. It appeared that he had a return to Manchester on his mind, but not the one you’d have expected…

In a whirlwind transfer saga which lasted about three days but felt like it was three weeks, Ronaldo had gone from his agent, Jorge Mendes, being contacted by Manchester City about his availability to boarding a plane to Manchester almost immediately. Mendes was doing what Mendes does best - moving his clients. United fans were in meltdown at the idea of their Ballon d’Or winning club legend wearing sky blue, it was truly a wonderful time to be alive.

Of course, did any of us really want him? Probably some but I certainly wasn’t one of them. The club wouldn’t be going on a pre-season tour of America this summer if we had done, put it that way. Combine that with the fact he was 36 at the time and, as we’ve seen at United, somebody who is a physical specimen yet somebody who absolutely refuses to use that physicality to press, plus his ego which would inevitably clash with Guardiola at some point and it felt like a recipe for disaster.

Would he have scored plenty of goals for us? Yeah he probably would have. He’s an amazing goalscorer. But he’d also probably have ruined the dressing room. He doesn’t hold that magnetic “I was here during the Fergie days, I know how it’s done properly around here” magic that he seems to have in United’s dressing room. Kevin De Bruyne is a better footballer than him. City’s squad is stacked with talent. United’s squad immediately looks to Ronaldo, City’s looks to Guardiola.

Never fear, however, as Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra were on the case. Evra was midway through greasing up a raw chicken for another night of fun when the news broke about Ronaldo and he sprang into action. He quickly got texting his old friend to make sure that the rumours weren’t true, as did Rio Ferdinand. The two combined to ensure that Ronaldo, who was definitely making this decision on an emotional basis and not at all anything to do with money, chose his beloved Manchester United over Manchester City. GAZUMPED.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that the Glazers, terrified of the potential backlash that may come their way if United were seen to allow Ronaldo to join Manchester City unopposed, panicked and made an offer which Ronaldo simply couldn’t refuse, for purely emotional reasons, of around £500,000 per week. They paid a small sum to Juventus to sweeten the deal and pretty soon, United’s social media department had an engagement targets cheat code.

It has since emerged that Manchester City’s interest may not have been quite as concrete as reported, with the club apparently only interested if Juventus were willing to let him go for free. This was apparently enough for Jorge Mendes to dangle the Ronaldo carrot in front of United and ensure that his client got the deal he probably always wanted from the get-go. Needless to say, City had the last laugh.

It didn’t stop City fans having a mini-meltdown about the situation, however. There were still plenty of City fans who wanted him and, on the surface of things, missing out on Messi, Kane and Ronaldo in one transfer window is pretty rough, regardless of just how serious City were actually invested in each of them. Still, who needs a striker when you’ve got Ferran Torres? God, I hope Ferran Torres stays forever. He’s our future number 9.

September - Feast and famine

The international break begins and, with the previous window having only just ended, the rumour mill immediately springs into action once more. The window’s only been shut five minutes and already the club is being linked with Erling Haaland, as apparently City are ready to enter a bidding war with Manchester United to secure his future.

Of course, in the aftermath of two summers of failed attempts to sign a big name attacker, I immediately think there’s no point in even getting excited for Haaland. If there’s one thing it’s become clear that this club won’t do, it’s win a bidding war. They have their player valuations and as soon as the numbers start to deviate from that valuation, it’s game over. It’s been especially proven (often to our own benefit, admittedly) that we seldom win these financial battles with Manchester United. Pack it up, boys, it’s done.

An international break comes and goes and we’re thrown straight back to winning ways with a 1-0 win over Leicester - a result which felt significant and like a big scalp at the time but, as the rest of the season has shown, is probably not quite the achievement it used to be.

The next few games show that, much like the beginning of the 2020/21 season, it’s probably not going to be quite the flawless Manchester City this year as a 6-3 victory over RB Leipzig in the Champions League seems to expose City’s defence, which had not conceded up to that point. A 0-0 draw with Southampton comes after that, exposing City’s attacking impotence (even though we’d just scored six in the previous game) and suddenly we’re all wondering how we’re going to win the league again. We’ve truly botched this transfer window in failing to sign a striker. Txiki out.

Anyway, then we go and put six goals past Wycombe. Adebayo Akinfenwa can only sit back and watch as Pep Guardiola’s lot make him start thinking about retirement. Ferran Torres continues to impress us all with his new-found Sergio Aguero re-gen powers as he bags again. How many goals will he finish the season on? More importantly, how long until he becomes the club’s all-time record goalscorer?

Akinfenwa
Akinfenwa

Then comes a crucial game against Chelsea, the team which made half of Manchester City fans think that Pep Guardiola is a self-sabotaging idiot for choosing to go into a Champions League final with no defensive midfielder. Pep has a lot on the line here. Not only is it three points, it’s his chance to silence the chumps who think he can’t beat Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.

One dominant 90 minutes of football later and he’s actually emboldened the chumps like me who were crying out for a defensive midfielder in the Champions League Final. He starts one for this game and City restrict Chelsea to zero shots on target and are unlucky to only come away with one goal, as Grealish comes close twice. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Some neat footwork from Gabriel Jesus allows him to get a shot away which is fortunate to deflect into the net - however at this point of the season we’re looking at a resurgent Gabriel Jesus who seems to have found his best form in years on that inside-right position, where he can press the opposition defence and still find himself in dangerous areas to score goals and assists.

Who needs a striker? We’ve got Gabriel Jesus! God, I hope he stays forever. How long until he becomes our all-time record goalscorer?

The month ends with a 2-0 defeat to PSG at the Parc de Princes in one of the most undeserved defeats I’ve seen City suffer in the Champions League for quite some time. Well, actually, not that long. But it’s still undeserved. City dominate the chances created but some unfortunate defending in the first ten minutes, followed by Lionel Messi being Lionel Messi late in the game and it’s just one of those matches. The Champions League group might not be such a cakewalk this year.

Still, at least we can bounce back from PSG with a nice, easy Premier League fixture…

October - International injury

So the month begins with a league game at Anfield.

As it turned out, it was a game of Guardiola v Klopp and Paul Tierney, as James Milner is let off with a blatant foul on Phil Foden, who is through on goal on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area in the first half and draws an “ooooooo” from Gary Neville. At best, it’s a borderline penalty and a booking. At worst, it’s a denial of a goalscoring opportunity and a red card. Still, we can only hope that decision proves not to be pivotal.

Late in the first half, Milner is finally booked, though you can’t help but wonder what could have been if Milner had only been correctly booked for his earlier foul.

The game springs into life in the second half, as Sadio Mane puts Liverpool 1-0 up. Ten minutes later, Gabriel Jesus continues his fine form by smartly setting up Phil Foden, who somehow manages to put it right in the bottom corner from a ridiculous angle.

Not long afterwards, James Milner is back in the controversy again as he very, very blatantly brings down Bernardo Silva, making no attempt for the ball and surely earning himself his second yellow card, which he should honestly have already had by that point. As it turns out, Paul Tierney is one of the worst top level referees in a league of terrible top level referees and so he refuses to make a big decision in the biggest game of the season. James Milner remains on the pitch and within minutes, Salah has put Liverpool 2-1 up, with the goal coming from Milner’s right-hand side.

Milner is substituted off moments later, as even Norbert Klopp can’t believe how lucky they are to not be down to ten men. But it doesn’t matter anyway because shortly afterwards, who else but Kevin De Bruyne, the king of big game players, makes it 2-2 and restores some semblance of justice.

The game ends level and, not for the first time in history, Mancunians come away feeling like they’ve been robbed by scousers.

The international break follows and all we want is a nice, simple window where nobody’s overworked and everybody comes back fit and firing.

After featuring in the Semi-Finals of the UEFA Nations League for Spain (and scoring twice in the first half, like the future record goalscorer of Manchester City should), Ferran Torres feels some discomfort in his foot. Still, he’ll probably just rest up and make sure that he doesn’t overwork his already injured bones in order to minimise his time out… right?

Instead, Torres plays 84 minutes of the Nations League Final against France, a game which Spain lose. All we can do is hope that he took the correct medical advice from Spain’s physios and that he’s not done himself any long-te…

Ferran Torres cut-screen
Ferran Torres cut-screen

Oh. I see.

Needless to say, this puts the nail in the coffin for Ferran Torres’ City career. I think we could all understand if he was putting his body on the line for a competition that actually matters, like a World Cup or Euros Final, but when it’s a UEFA Nations League final you have to question why he was even that bothered. The decision to do it probably made Pep pretty angry and, whilst the initial assessment was that he’d be out for a month, it turned out to be an injury which would mean he’d play no football of any kind until 2022.

Still, who needs Ferran Torres when you’re frontrunners to sign Erling Haaland?

The month’s football is relatively uneventful from the Liverpool game onwards. Cole Palmer bags his first goal in the Champions League in a thorough dismantling of Club Brugge, as Brighton and Burnley are brushed aside either side of that game.

Then comes the biggest blow of the entire season - City are knocked out of the Carabao Cup by West Ham. The five in a row is officially off the table as the blues are defeated, rather aptly, in a penalty shootout.

Afterwards comes a defeat to Crystal Palace in the league and it suddenly looks like the three way title race many predicted at the start of the season is going to be a lot tougher than we thought. A terrible end to the first three months of the season.

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Featured Image Credit: PA Images / Alamy

Topics: Manchester City, Premier League, Football

Joe Butterfield
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