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Why City won it
With Manchester City newly crowned as Premier League champions for the second time in the past three seasons we pinpoint just how they did it. It's been a remarkable campaign by all accounts but Manuel Pellegrini's men have proven more than worthy winners. Here's why...
Last Updated: 11/05/14 8:56pm
Title-winning teams tend to have a strong spine and City have that right through the centre of the side in the shape of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. Although Manuel Pellegrini only started those four players on seven occasions in the Premier League this season, it is telling that City won all of those matches - scoring 23 goals in the process.
These fixtures include the 4-1 derby win over Manchester United and the 5-1 demolition of Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Perhaps most significantly, Pellegrini was able to count on these players during the key games in the run-in with Hart and Aguero particularly pivotal in the 3-2 victory against Everton at Goodison Park that first put City odds-on for the title.
Coping without key men
As indicated by how rarely Pellegrini fielded the much-vaunted spine of his team, a feature of the campaign was how well the team fared in the absence of their star names. When Aguero was injured over the Christmas period, City won all six of their Premier League matches. In the 10 games Kompany was unavailable for, the team managed six clean sheets.
In addition, City are unbeaten in the league without Toure in the starting line-up and powered over the line despite David Silva's absence at the most tense stage of the season. It speaks volumes for the strength in depth at the club and, ultimately, that proved a key differential between City and their rivals.
That squad depth is illustrated by the key contributions from less heralded members of the group. Edin Dzeko is still to win over some of his critics but a tally of 26 goals in all competitions has included that first-minute strike at Old Trafford and vital goals to help see off Crystal Palace, Everton and Aston Villa when there was no room for a slip up.
James Milner provided the assist for Dzeko's opener at Goodison with a neat piece of skill to evade Leighton Baines and he too stepped up when needed. A word too for the much-maligned Martin Demichelis whose presence in the team in the absence of long-term injury victim Matija Nastasic proved rather less disastrous than might have been anticipated.
Goals from everywhere
While more than half of Liverpool's league goals came courtesy of strike duo Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, City were able to rely upon a greater variety of sources. Indeed, Toure finishes the Premier League campaign as the club's top scorer with 20 goals, three clear of star striker Aguero with Dzeko not far behind with 16 of his own.
Beyond that there were three from Kompany, four from Jesus Navas, five from Fernandinho, and seven from both David Silva and Samir Nasri. Right from the first day of the season when four men got on the scoresheet against Newcastle through to the 7-0 drubbing of Norwich in which all of the goals were credited to different players, this has been a true team effort.
Different ways to win
Seven against Norwich plus six against both Arsenal and Tottenham, City handed out some beatings this season. There were a couple more five-goal hauls and six further occasions in which they scored four. But Pellegrini's team also showed an ability to grind out victories when things weren't looking so fluid in attack too.
While Chelsea struggled to see off the weaker teams and failed to beat four of the bottom half at home, City found a way to win those games - winning 17 of their home fixtures including 1-0 wins over Stoke and Palace thanks to second-half goals. They were also the top scorers in the final 15 minutes of matches, making a consistent habit of getting over the line when they needed to.
Got the balance right
Those achievements reflect the fact that City got the balance right where their rivals failed. Much has been made of Liverpool's 101 goal season, but it undoubtedly came at a cost to their defensive solidity. It's important to note that no team in the Premier League era has conceded as many goals as the Reds did this season and gone on to win the title.
Chelsea, meanwhile, had a strong defensive record but failed to score enough goals at the other end. By comparison, City clearly had the best balance - keeping 16 clean sheets in addition to scoring a century of goals of their own.
This almost became styled as the title that nobody wanted to win and the desire for managers to talk down their own chances certainly became an ongoing narrative thanks to Jose Mourinho's little horse and Brendan Rodgers' Chihuahua. One wonders whether that lack of conviction became a self-fulfilling prophecy for these clubs.
Such are the demands at City that talking down title ambitions was simply never an option for Pellegrini despite this being his first season at the helm and this focus was shared by his players. "Of course we are," Joe Hart told Sky Sports when asked whether City were title contenders at the height of the phoney war. "I can't really comment on any other teams but I know what we're doing and that's what we've pushed for all season." They embraced the pressure and got their reward.
Winning their last five games was a fitting finale for the Premier League champions but the fact that 13 points rather than 15 would still have been enough to win owed much to the failures of others. Most spectacularly, of course, there was Liverpool's implosion at Selhurst Park and there's no getting away from the fact that seven points from the final three games would have been enough for the Reds to lift the title.
Chelsea too will be left wondering what might have been. Despite beating both City and Liverpool home and away, defeats to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland scuppered their hopes long before the failure to score at home to Norwich. Even Arsenal fans might be bemoaning key injuries and the failure to strengthen in January. They do say you can only beat what's in front of you.
Such was the way that the challenges fizzled out, it's easy to feel that City didn't have to be at their very best to win it. However, in a 38-game season it doesn't matter when the points are accumulated, only that they are, and it would be wrong to forget how relentless City's form was during the winter.
Eight consecutive wins either side of Christmas - beginning with a 6-3 win over Arsenal and ending in the 5-1 triumph over Tottenham - got City back on track after a difficult start as they impressively addressed their early struggles away from home. Pellegrini's men finished January seven points clear of Liverpool and it was the lead built up during those winter months that did much to ensure City were able to ride out the Reds' spring storm.
Praise for Pellegrini
Ultimately, the manager deserves immense credit for that. Of course, plenty of money was spent in the summer but Pellegrini did a fine job of integrating new faces and lifting old ones who'd apparently become dispirited in the final months of the Roberto Mancini regime. The Chilean coach managed the transition and got results in the meantime.
While Mourinho has talked of instituting a style change at Stamford Bridge, the fluid football has been more evident at the Etihad and while a failure to win the biggest games will be an issue to address next season, there can be no denying that Manchester City represent stylish champions - and that has to mean it's a job well done by Manuel Pellegrini.