Small Margins Big Joy: The emotions behind Manchester City’s title win

Arnav Deshpande
By Arnav Deshpande
18 Min Read
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“I said maybe/You’re gonna be the one that saves me/And after all/You’re my wonder-wall.” Oasis’ iconic song echoed in Etihad stadium along with Beatles’ “Hey Jude” before kick-off as everyone on this planet except some people in Kop End thought it was Manchester City’s day to paint the City in blue once again this year. Before we get onto the final day, let’s see how the 2021/22 season has been for Man City and most importantly its supporters. So fasten your seatbelts and wear your life jackets as the ship is about to leave the port.

DISAPPOINTING TRANSFER WINDOW & AVERAGE PRE-SEASON

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The season began on a sad note that this year Sergio Aguero was not going to be here, Cityzen felt that there was a dire need for a center- forward and so did Pep. There were numerous names flying as potential Aguero replacements but, one name on top of that list was England captain Harry Kane. Manchester City spent almost the entire summer chasing Harry Kane’s signature but failed. While they missed on Kane, there were rumours that they can land a deal for Lionel Messi as the Argentine’s wages were too much for Barcelona. In the same window, Man City lost the opportunity to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. City missed the opportunity to sign 2 GOATS of the football world for next to no fee in the same window absolutely crushing the dreams of many football fanatics around the globe.

Manchester City ended the window by signing Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for 100 million pounds and Brazilian wonderkid Kayky for the EDS.

During pre-season, Pep Guardiola had no first-team players in the camp due to Euros. So Pep had to play with EDS and u18s during pre-season friendlies and when the players started to return, they were rushed to play Community Shield against Leicester City in a losing effort.

A SLOW START

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Having a confusing window and sub-par pre-season, Man City started their campaign really slow. Losing to Tottenham Hotspur and drawing to Southampton, Manchester City were at one point 12th in the table while Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United were among the toppers. City fans started questioning players’ abilities but still backed their manager. After a slow but rather steady start, Manchester City started to be visible in the top 6 which changed to top 4 then top 3 and then a victory against Chelsea changed everything. City were back in the top 2 and chased Liverpool by just a single point.

A rich run of form and a Liverpool dip resulted in Manchester City leading the Premier League table during Christmas Period.

CARABAO CUP EXIT

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City gave chance to various academy players in this competition. Likes of Cole Palmer, James McAtee and CJ Egan-Riley got the platform to earn Pep’s trust. Unfortunate for them, City’s side consisting of 10 first team players lost to West Ham on penalties where Phil Foden missed the decisive shot. This elimination meant that Pep’s side were out of the quadruple race while their rivals Liverpool were still in contention for the unprecedented quadruple.

MANCHESTER CITY RICH PREMIER LEAGUE FORM

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After their exit from Cup, Manchester City were consistent in UCL as well as PL looking like favourites to win the title again. Likes of Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were brilliant on weekly basis. Players took the responsibility for the goals on themselves as they were without a striker as well as Ferran Torres. This didn’t stop them as instead of one player with 50 goals for the season, they had 5 players with 50 goals within them. Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus everyone contributed to City’s goals. This consistency brought them a clear advantage of 9 points on the PL table.

DIP IN PL FORM

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While everything was going good, Manchester City hit a speed bumper in their way. Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace and Antonio Conte’s Spurs beat Guardiola’s City which reduced the points gap. Still clear of 3 points against Liverpool it looked like City were still managing to keep its hands on the trophy but, injuries to Kyle Walker, Nathan Ake, Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte meant they were without an actual backline and especially without a center-back. What a crisis for a squad in an important position!

1 MINUTE IN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

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Manchester City had great knockout rounds in Champions League. Beating SCP by a comfortable margin, they went on to beat Atletico Madrid in a match that ended up in a brawl. A hard-fought victory against Simeone’s side took a lot of fuel (no pun) out of City’s side. The same game caused injury to Stones, Walker and KDB. Due to the absence of the above trio, Manchester City lost their FA Cup tie against Liverpool which ended City’s dream of a treble.

While they looked like favourites to win the UCL as they beat Real Madrid in 1st leg, City fans would be happy if we don’t remind them of 2nd leg.

Pep’s side played good football across both legs. They dominated the ball for 179 minutes out of the traditional 180. Yet they somehow lost to Madrid due to Rodrygo’s brilliance in the 90th minute of the second leg. This game absolutely destroyed Manchester City players emotionally. Pep Guardiola was left speechless after the final whistle and the whole away end kept wondering HOW? This painful sight of players crying at Bernabeu will always haunt Manchester City for a greater future. Getting eliminated by the Kings of CL; Pep had one job now: To win PL by hook or by crook.

WEST HAM 2-2 MAN CITY

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City lined up with a backline of Cancelo, Dinho, Laporte and Zinchenko due to injuries on Dias, Stones, Walker and Ake. This makeshift defence cost City 2 points as the game against West Ham ended up in a 2-2 draw. While Man City were temporarily 2nd in the table now, lucky for them Liverpool also drew against Tottenham. But, this game changed the dynamic of the remaining weeks. City and Liverpool were back at a tight race with the point gap being just 1. Manchester City were just 1 point ahead of Liverpool and City’s defensive record in last few games suggested that Liverpool may just go on to win the title and maybe… a Quadruple.

JUDGEMENT DAY

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After having a rollercoaster of a season. Pep and City had one job: Win the game against Aston Villa. A win here meant Manchester City would lift the trophy while a loss or draw meant Liverpool’s result will decide the winner.

Coming back to the beginning of this article, the stage was set, and Etihad was filled with a crowd (something that social media experts will disagree). City fans were singing songs and echoing chants from the depth of their lungs. Etihad experienced one of the best atmosphere of the season for this game. The whole of Manchester including the Red side were hoping and praying for Man City to win. Hence, Pep had to win this for 2 reasons: 1. Avoiding City of another trophyless season. 2. For world peace against Liverpool fans (bro we don’t want to read the best of all time cries from them on twitter).

As the game started, analytics were suggesting a comfortable Manchester City win vs Aston Villa. Man City even dominated the ball for first quarter but they were finding it difficult to get past the 18-yard box. Villa started to grow in the game and Steven Gerrard’s team scored first. City conceded to Cash (no pun again). As Villa spotted Fernandinho as a weak link in City defence Steven Gerrard asked his army to attack the wounded spot. Manchester City’s high line and slow defenders were unable to keep up against Watkins. Steven Gerrard ended the first half with his side leading by one goal.

Still hopeful of a comeback, Manchester City were quite confident despite trailing by a goal. The second half began with a changed backline. Cancelo was moved to right-back while Stones moved to his usual Center back role and Zinchenko was introduced in place of skipper Fernandinho. Pep Guardiola, a manager who hardly makes substitutions for tactical shifts did one mean that things were going to heat up. There was hope that now, City will cover properly and build up from the back and play their usual game.

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Likes of Bernardo, Mahrez, Foden, Jesus and De Bruyne tried to break through Villa’s defence but still could not find any opening. Frustrated with the monotonous and predictable attacking patterns, Pep introduced Gundogan and Sterling for Bernardo and Mahrez respectively in an attempt to shake things up. As the hour had passed City were still trying to look for a breakthrough and then Coutinho scored a sublime finish for Villa. It felt like it’s written in the books and all the theorists on Twitter were happy for this fantasy to come true. Steven Gerrard and Phil Coutinho, two former Liverpool players were indirectly helping Liverpool to win the title by beating Manchester City.

Entire Etihad was shunned and shocked, I can still remember those tearful eyes in the audience. Each and every City fan had given up at that time. It felt like turning the television screen off as City were losing and Liverpool were looking like they will make a comeback. There was a joy in Kop while the exact opposite at the Collin Bell stands. But, 6 minutes later City’s hero from last season, Ilkay Gundogan scored from a header making it 1-2. I remember myself watching Manchester City’s game on one screen while constantly checking Liverpool’s score. For a couple of minutes, it still looked like City might end up on the losing side as Liverpool were growing in their game against Wolverhampton Wanderers. I can imagine that most of us must have prayed for Wolves to hold Liverpool from scoring for the remaining 18 minutes.

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There’s one unwritten rule in football that goals can come from anywhere and Manchester City knew this from their game against Real Madrid.

Following Gundogan’s goal, Etihad started speaking again. “We never win at home/And we never win away/We lost last week/And we lost today/We don’t give a ****/’Cause we’re all pissed up/MCFC OK.”

“You are my City/My only City/You make me happy when skies are grey/You’ll never know just how much I love you/So please don’t take my City away.”

“I’m City ’til I die/I’m City ’til I die/I know I am I’m sure I am/I’m City ’till I die.”

These chants were echoing around Etihad and this support motivated Rodri to take a chance from outside the box and he OH BOY HE SCORED!!! I remember myself jumping off my couch with screaming loud enough to disturb my sleeping Indian neighbour. As City now equalized with Villa’s score, everyone knew Villa will park the bus for the remaining game. But, Rodri’s goal awakened a memory in the hearts of all the City fans. “Dzekooo” Rodri’s goal gave us a flashback of Dzeko’s goal against QPR.

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That game won them their first PL title and exactly a decade later, City were looking for an Agueerroooo goal but this time there was no Sergio Aguero in the club.

Can’t say about others but this exact moment brought a small tear to my eye as I missed Sergio Aguero and I wished for someone to do exactly what Manchester City and Sergio Aguero did 10 years ago: Keep digging, keep shooting and get that damn goal.

Exactly three minutes later commentator screamed “De Bruyneeeee” and the whole Etihad erupted in the loudest cheer seen in Premier League this season. Goalscorer Ilkay Gundogan was to the rescue again as he ran like a kid celebrating even losing his control while sliding down the pitch. All the Manchester City fans present in the stadium started singing “Blue Moon” while the fans like me jumped off the couch, screamed out of joy and took a quick house tour running and celebrating this dramatic goal.

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We got our “Aguerrrooooo” goal this time and this was the perfect tribute to our legend as well as our title win which happened exactly one decade before. A new joy sparked again and the singing voices never stopped till the trophy celebrations.

Kevin De Bruyne, Sterling and most importantly Rodri and Gundogan or say Kun-dogan rose to the occasion to save the season for Manchester City. Hugs, jumps and joyful stretches at a full time from the people in blue were the best sight for all the City fans this season. Younger fans who were unable to experience Aguerroooooooooo moment got to see what all the City fans must’ve felt in 2012. Pep showed his will to shake things up in important sessions and all the players showed their characters. They kept trying and snatched the title from Liverpool’s hands. Club captain Fernandinho lifted the trophy as Cityzens kept singing his name to bid him a memorable farewell.

After a disappointing Champions League exit and early exit from the domestic Cup, Man City ended their season on a high with 4th league title in 5 years.

“All wells if end well.”

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