Have Manchester City slightly got away with a pretty terrible Premier League season?
Yes is the answer. Yes they have. They’ve lost more Premier League games this season than Arsenal. That’s ridiculous. They’ve only lost two games fewer than Tottenham, who don’t even play football anymore.
Liverpool’s truly extraordinary season has provided some cover. The assorted bed-shittings at Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United even more. But it’s still been a startling fall. It’s one thing not to quite maintain standards that delivered successive points hauls of 100 and 98 – and there is an element here of being the victim of their own success – but dropping from those two totals to something below 80 has to be a worry, even if it will still be more than enough to deliver second place.
You can argue Liverpool’s ridiculousness was impossible to challenge, but City held back an equally unrelenting red march last season. It’s all well and good saying City are still much better than United, Arsenal and Spurs, but those teams have all been largely rotten and there is no guarantee they will remain so (apart from Spurs).
City are still slightly able to have their cake and eat it. They have all the trappings and success of a modern global superclub yet are still able to slip slightly under the radar compared to Your Uniteds or Your Liverpools.
Imagine, if you will, this season panning out with City on course for another hundred-pointer and Liverpool falling back to finish second 20 points behind. Would all the talk be about City’s record-breaking success, or would the focus be on Liverpool’s failure to keep the pace?
Sure, it’s not a perfect analogy because the situations are not precisely reversible. City haven’t waited 30 years for a title, for instance. But it still feels like City have escaped a bit of heat. Nine Premier League defeats for a team as staggeringly good and consistent as City for the last two years should definitely be a bigger talking point.
Not buying a centre-back last summer was a ridiculous gamble and it has not paid off. Sure, City probably thought they could maintain things for one more season and that Liverpool would fall back – they were far from alone in that – but it still seems oddly unambitious. It’s proved to be precisely the sort of risk-averse decision that ends up being a far bigger gamble than taking a punt on someone.
They could also render this pretty much moot by winning the Champions League Knockout Cup next month. Even last season there was a suggestion that City and Liverpool would have been quite happy to swap the trophies they won. Maybe this season that will actually happen.
There’s no doubt the Champions League is the trophy City crave most after ticking off the domestic pots and claiming quite literal ownership of the League Cup. But that only makes last summer’s inaction all the more puzzling. If they do win the Champions League, there will be no sense that they have stepped up a level to break through that barrier.
And, of course, while the quick-fire knockout format from the last eight onwards is clearly going to absolutely fantastic to watch, it will also mean that even if City do win it – especially on the back of such a nondescript domestic season – it will be asterisked to f*ck. City won’t care about that, of course, but it’s the reality.
Then there is the European ban hanging over City’s head. There’s every chance it gets overturned because these sort of punishments rarely seem to stick, but there is suddenly far greater uncertainty around City than there has been for some time.
This team is getting old. David Silva will be sorely missed by us all. There are significant signs of life at Chelsea, United and, heaven help us, even Arsenal. City aren’t about to be left behind – indeed, it wouldn’t particularly be a surprise to see them whack out another 90-point season next time around – but they certainly can’t afford another misfire in the summer or distracted start when next season rolls around all too quickly.