Man City 19/20 Review: Champions League needed to avoid failure

The Premier League is suspended until at least May, so we have decided to review every club's season so far. Next up, why winning the Champions League is the only way for Man City to save an otherwise poor season...

Second in the Premier League table, EFL Cup winners, holding a first-leg advantage in their Champions League knockout tie, and into the last eight of the FA Cup, for most football clubs Manchester City's position as of March would be considered a relatively successful season.
But by Pep Guardiola's standards, it has been a failure.
City have lost seven leagues games, a record high for a Guardiola side, and trail the league leaders by 25 points, the biggest gap the Catalan has endured as a manager. Those statistics tell a more accurate story of their 2019/20 season, which - unless it ends with the Champions League trophy - will be reviewed as a year to forget.
Many pundits predicted Guardiola would leave at the end of the campaign, such was the sense his era was fading, with around half of the City squad set to be in their 30s at some point in the 2020/21 season. More than most, they need a strong end to the current campaign to restore some optimism at the Etihad.

Season so far

Things were going just fine for City until Aymeric Laporte got injured against Brighton late August, when suddenly Guardiola's decision not to replace the departed Vincent Kompany looked foolish. City promptly lost 3-2 at Norwich in what remains the biggest shock of the 2019/20 Premier League season.
Within that performance could be seen all of the issues that would come to define Man City's season: Norwich tore through the middle, exposing the brittleness of Guardiola's central defence and the disorganisation in midfield without Fernandinho.
This became a major theme, with Wolves, Newcastle, Man Utd, and Liverpool all similarly exploiting City's problems in the transition from attack to defence. Along with increasing hesitancy going forward and as Liverpool pulled clear, Man City's 2019/20 campaign unfolded as a deflating and largely meaningless experience.
However, a revival was in sight just as the hiatus began. City beat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Bernabeu in one of the best performances of Guardiola's tenure, and shortly after won the League Cup and progressed to the quarter-final of the FA Cup. They could yet end the season on a high, and, with Laporte back from injury, lifting the Champions League is certainly not out of the question.

Highlights

When the game kicked off and Man City lined up in a flat 4-4-2 with two false nines in Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus, most people assumed Guardiola had once again overthought things. But City came back from 1-0 down to beat Real Madrid on their own turf, sparking talk City would finally win the one trophy that has eluded them since the takeover in 2008.
Four days later City picked up the first silverware of the season, winning their third consecutive League Cup with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa. It wasn't quite the same high as the midweek game, but historically winning this tournament has given the club a confidence boost ahead of the run-in.
Fans will also remember thrashing Watford 8-0 in September, an angry response to being beaten by Norwich seven days earlier, in which Bernardo Silva scored a hat-trick as City went 5-0 up within 18 minutes.

Lowlights

Losing twice to Wolves is one thing, but to be defeated home and away by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United was a humbling experience for Guardiola. The great tactician found himself outwitted twice by a man largely considered unqualified for his role.
The main lowlight, however, has been the general sense of having nothing to play for across long stretches of the Premier League campaign. This helps explain why performance levels have dipped across the board.
The club's ban from the Champions League was the darkest moment of their year, of course, although it is increasingly unlikely this will come into play for 2020/21.

What they can achieve in 19/20

And yet this could still be a monumental season for the club. The Champions League is their holy grail, and with no other distractions - plus Laporte returning to the side - Man City may never have a better shot at it. Then again, perhaps that pressure will get to them, which is reflected in their odds of 4.30 to win the trophy with Betfair Exchange.
Domestically, another FA Cup win, priced at 2.00 with Betfair Exchange, is still on the cards, plus Guardiola will be keen to ensure City don't drop below Leicester City in the Premier League.

What next: Summer transfers & 2020/21

A big rebuilding job is required. Man City need at least one new centre-back to forge a long-term partnership with Laporte, as well as a new left-back (Benjamin Mendy hasn't worked out) and a midfield destroyer to replace Fernandinho.
In attack, City could do with a new winger, assuming Leroy Sane is leaving the club, and possibly an upgrade on Gabriel Jesus. Guardiola is highly unlikely to fill all the holes in the side, but even just one new defender would allow Fernandinho to shuffle back into midfield, re-solidifying that first 11.
repeat of the 2018/19 points tally is definitely attainable, especially if they have no midweek European football.

Summary

There is only one way to escape 2019/20 without it being deemed a failure, and that's to be crowned European champions. The 2-1 win at Real Madrid suggests City do have it in them, should the tournament be completed, and with Liverpool knocked out City can consider themselves the strongest team technically.
But the most likely scenario is another year without that most coveted of prizes. And if that's the case, then 2019/20 will be a year to forget for Guardiola, his players, and the fans.

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