The ultimate City break
17:36, 14 May 2012
Did Manchester United lose the title or the champions win it? Miguel Delaney argues both while putting City's remarkable campaign into context and praising Roberto Mancini
Today, Manchester City aren’t just top of the league. They’ll feel top of the world.
In terms of the ways you can win a title, there’s simply nothing to better what they did against QPR. The club finally has its equivalent of Anfield 1989, Camp Nou 1999 and Istanbul 2005.
But, while that may be difficult to top, where does it put the team as title winners themselves?
Because, as unique as that euphoric victory was, there’s also the slight feeling that it couldn’t really have ended any other way. The late twist, after all, only typified the entire title race. Indeed, City’s match was almost their season in microcosm: an opening lead, a dramatic second-half collapse and finally a terrific win by the tightest of margins.
Yes, they initially squandered a seven-point lead as they seemed to struggle with the pressure and rhythm of a first title race as a squad. But they were only afforded the late amazing opportunity because Manchester United then let slip an eight-point lead with five games. That’s simply never happened to an Alex Ferguson team before.
As such, it can be argued that United lost the title. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be true that City went and won it. Because they did. Emphatically.
Once United let them back into the title race, City immediately applied the harsh lessons they’d learned. They won six games in a row, one of which was a second consecutive thoroughly convincing league victory over United.
Throughout that period, too, Roberto Mancini boxed very cleverly.
Previously, there had been justifiable qualification of the manager’s previous successes and failures given the fact that, really, money obscured everything. He had too little at Fiorentina and Lazio and too much at Inter.
Of course, it’s also the grand caveat to City’s great achievement. And, certainly, there can be no denying that the club won a first title for 44 years – and are set to dominate the next few – because of the hundreds upon millions of pounds from the Middle East.
But it shouldn’t be forgotten either that the wealth and size of other, previously richer, clubs only came about because they were successful at opportune times in history or availed of rare opportunities.
Would Manchester United look the same today, had someone not had the foresight to sign up Matt Busby in 1945? From that came so much of its rich history and heritage, the youth system, the sense of adventure... and the millions of fans and pounds. Ferguson, famously, was taken aback by the exact size of United when he arrived in 1986. He would sidle up alongside the likes of Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson in training and, in a hushed whisper, say “big club this. Big place.” Inevitably then, Ferguson’s force of personality made it even bigger.
The same applies for Liverpool with Bill Shankly and, indeed, Arsenal with Arsene Wenger.
Such figures helped these institutions build on the geographical advantage of their areas.
Of course, it cannot be denied that these men initially fortified these institutions with their own personal ingenuity.
The difference with City is exclusively money. Indeed, the scale of their expenditure over the last few years is also unprecedented. They’ve been afforded an opportunity no other club has been allowed; very quickly building the team up to higher and higher levels of quality, layering superior players onto the existing squad season on season.
Almost every other club in history – even Real Madrid’s galacticos – have to work around limits and, to a certain degree, accept the quality of certain players while they sought to strengthen other areas. Think of the famous ‘Zidane and Pavones’ strategy.
City don’t have to do that. They just blow everyone out of the water.
Strip away the perceptions, after all, and consider the statuses of the two players they brought on yesterday when chasing the game. One was among the most sought-after strikers in European football in Edin Dzeko. Another was one of the most precociously gifted young players in the world in Mario Balotelli.
Both ultimately played big parts.
But, while money may condition the overall state of a league – in other words, where clubs will generally finish – the real differences between first and second and who actually wins a title comes down to the more subtle qualities.
After all, money can’t completely mitigate against mental pressure, for example.
And Mancini must be praised for getting his team to handle that in the closing stages of the season. Realising the effect the pressure had on them as they first squandered that lead, he finally fostered an atmosphere more conducive to free football by insisting his team were still not favourites. With expectation absent, City started playing some exhilarating stuff again.
Then there was also the manner in which he altered the angles of the attack. As David Silva found less space, Dzeko stopped scoring and other teams seemed to have worked City out, Mancini had to do something different. And he did something no-one expected. He swallowed his pride and brought back Carlos Tevez.
The burst of form that brought City to the title can arguably be traced back to the exquisite partnership Tevez forged with Sergio Aguero and, particularly, that scintillating 6-1 destruction of Norwich City.
When it came right down to it, too, Mancini repeated the trick. Many would have considered Balotelli a liability in a situation like yesterday. Instead, he opened it all up. As City had been just lumping balls into the box to little avail until Dzeko’s equaliser, Balotelli went through the middle. There, he held the ball, did superbly to flick it on and set up Aguero for the ultimate finish.
That also meant that City ended up with 89 points, the seventh highest haul in English league history.
That, it should be noted, also reflects their run of results. Although they were only truly exceptional in the first two months of the season and the last five weeks, it was only really a one-month spell that saw them start badly dropping points. Otherwise, they maintained a creditably high threshold.
And that led to the highest emotion.
City are far from England’s greatest ever champions. But they are a fine, evolving team who provided one of football’s greatest ever moments.
How City’s title win fares:
Points per game
1. Chelsea 2004-05, 2.5 points
2. Chelsea 2005-06, 2.39 points
-. Manchester United 1999-2000, 2.39 points
4. Manchester United 2008-09, 2.36 points
-. Arsenal 2003-04, 2.36 points
6. Manchester United 2006-07, 2.34 points
7. Manchester City 2011-12, 2.34 points
-. Manchester United 2011-12, 2.34 points
9. Liverpool 1978-79, 2.33 points*
10. Tottenham 1960-61, 2.31 points*
* adjusted to three points for a win
Goals per game
1. Tottenham 1960-61, 2.74 goals
2. Chelsea 2009-10, 2.71 goals
3. Manchester United 1999-2000, 2.55 goals
4. Wolves 1957-58, 2.45 goals
-. Manchester United 1956-57, 2.45 goals
6. Arsenal 1952-53, 2.31 goals
7. Wolves 1953-54, 2.29 goals
8. Manchester United 1951-52, 2.26 goals
9. Wolves 1958-59, 2.25 goals
10. Ipswich 1961-62, 2.21 goals
-. Manchester City 2011-12, 2.21 goals
12. Liverpool 1963-64, 2.19 goals
City are 20th in terms of goals conceded per game with 0.76. Top are Liverpool 1978-79 with 0.38
City are joint 15th in terms of least defeats, with five
Miguel Delaney is a European football journalist who writes for the Evening Herald, the Irish Examiner, ESPN, the London Independent and ourselves. In 2011, he was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year.
Follow him @migueldelaney
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