Thrilling title races between Manchester City and Liverpool are something we have become accustomed to over the past few years with one of these ensuing in the 2013/14 season. City eventually came out on top in May of that season, despite having spent just 15 days at the top of the Premier League over the course of that campaign. On the anniversary of Manuel Pellegrini’s title win, we take a look back at that charming season.
After a bitter final few weeks under Roberto Mancini, culminating in a shock FA Cup final defeat to Wigan Athletic, the Italian was sacked and replaced by Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini – an appointment that raised eyebrows among fans and journalists alike. A manager who gained his reputation in Spain was now at the helm of one of the grandest footballing projects ever undertaken, as he was deemed suitable to drive the daring City project even further.
City and Pellegrini’s opening match happened to be on a Monday night, where City demolished Newcastle United 4-0. Sergio Aguero opened his league account for the season that night along with David Silva, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure. It didn’t take long for Pellegrini to taste defeat for the first time either as his City side fell victim to a Cardiff City fairytale. The Welsh side’s first home match in the top-flight was made even sweeter as sloppy set piece defending meant the Bluebirds managed to snatch a famous 3-2 victory over City for their first league win and City’s first defeat. City won again at the Etihad with a 2-0 win over Hull before stuttering again on the road, as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Stoke.
Both Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure and the season of the club were belatedly kickstarted when Manchester City put four goals past Manchester United in the first Derby of both the season, but also the post Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford. Sergio Aguero scored his 50th City goal with an athletic volley as he steered a cross goal wards, despite the ball seemingly being behind him. Aguero were to score again along with Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure as Manchester City beat David Moyes’ United 4-1.
City couldn’t carry forward any momentum from the Derby victory as the Blues suffered another 3-2 defeat on the road, this time at Aston Villa as the wait for Pellegrini’s first away win continued to go on. Thankfully the wait didn’t last much longer, as consecutive 3-1 victories first at home to Everton and then away at West Ham meant it had taken till mid October for City pick up their first three points on the road. City then suffered a third defeat of the season, losing 2-1 to emerging title contenders Chelsea, though they bounced back with a 7-0 thumping against Norwich. Pellegrini’s problems on the road continued however, as City suffered yet another defeat, this time on Tyneside with a 1-0 loss leaving Manchester City in 8th – six points off leaders Arsenal and having dropped points in five of their opening 11 league games.
City were in desperate need of some consistency, and almost four months into the campaign, this came as Manchester City put an unexpected 20 game unbeaten run in all competitions together. Spanning over three months, and beginning and ending with big results against Spurs, City had managed to catapult from 8th to 1st come the end of January. During the remarkable run, Manchester City had won 10 out of 11 league games with the most memorable results including a 6-0 and 5-0 thrashing of Spurs, a 6-3 victory against Arsenal and a 2-1 victory against Liverpool.
With City heading into February with a minuscule one point gap over Arsenal, and Chelsea and Liverpool gathering momentum although seven points behind, a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea followed by a frustrating 0-0 draw to Norwich meant City’s title challenge took another blow. Manuel Pellegrini’s side dropped to 3rd and became part of an exciting four-horse race for the title. City’s only other Premier League game in February was against Stoke where they held out for an important 1-0 victory.
With City dumped out of the FA Cup by Wigan again, and knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona, all of City’s attention was on the Premier League title race with the Blues in 3rd, and two points behind leaders Chelsea with 12 games left to play. City became engaged in a pack of four separated by just four points – a rollercoaster race that was about ensue, and one nobody could have predicted.
City knew they had to keep winning, and did just that starting with a 2-0 win over Hull and a 5-0 victory over Fulham, before completing the double over Manchester United as two goals from Edin Dzeko and a classy finish from Yaya Toure made sure of a 3-0 win at Old Trafford – overtaking Arsenal and moving into 2nd. City then headed to the Emirates top of the league, but after falling to a 1-1 draw, found themselves only top by goal difference over Liverpool. A 4-1 victory over Southampton meant City remained top on goal difference, but headed to Merseyside the following the week to face Liverpool, where the margins couldn’t have been finer.
With four games to go, it felt very much like a title decider at Anfield, even with Chelsea breathing closely down the necks of both sides. Manchester City were going in search of a first victory at Anfield since the turn of the century, with the knowledge of how vital three points would be.
Having not won at Anfield this century, what seemed like a title decider ended up being full of frustrations and could-have-beens for City. After falling two goals behind in the first-half, it looked like more Anfield agony, but a second-half fightback led by David Silva saw City bring the game back to 2-2. However, a Vincent Kompany mistake 12 minutes from time set up a Philippe Coutinho winner for Liverpool.
Manchester City were furious about a number of key decisions that didn’t go in their favour. Despite Jordan Henderson being sent off late on in the game, a clear handball by Martin Skrtel was missed by match officials and many also believe Liverpool should have been reduced to nine men after Luis Suarez wasn’t show a second caution for diving. The result left Liverpool top, and despite Manchester City having two games in hand, Liverpool just needed to win their remaining four matches to be crowned Champions.
City’s title hopes looked to have been snatched by relegation threatened Sunderland after City were held to a 2-2 at the Etihad three days later – the Blues fell to third and were now three points behind the leaders. City’s near fatal blip was over after they secured a 3-1 win over West Brom and had the opportunity to close the gap on Liverpool, after Brendan Rodgers’ side had suffered a 2-0 defeat to fellow title chasers Chelsea – a game in which Steven Gerrard infamously slipped. Immediately after, Manchester City faced Crystal Palace with the knowledge that a win would put themselves back in pole position for the title. Pellegrini’s side fought hard for a 2-0 win as Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure got the all important goals.
City then went on to edge past Everton, with Joe Hart’s two fabulous saves allowing the side to hold out for a 3-2 win on Merseyside, but it was what happened two days later which meant the pendulum suddenly swung in City’s favour. Liverpool fell victim to the most famous of Premier League comebacks in the final 10 minutes of their match at Crystal Palace. Three late goals at Selhurst Park saw the Eagles come from 3-0 down to draw 3-3, on a night now known now as ‘Crystanbul‘.
The title was back in the hands of Manchester City courtesy of their game in hand, with the knowledge that two wins in their last two games would be enough to secure the Premier League title. City’s game in hand was against Aston Villa, where a 4-0 thumping meant only West Ham stood between City and their second title in three years. Though it took over an hour for Manchester City to break the deadlock, the floodgates opened with the pick of the goals coming courtesy of a remarkable Yaya Toure solo run through the heart of the Villa defence and midfield.
Thankfully without the drama that had occurred on the final day 24 months prior, Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title with a comfortable 2-0 win over West Ham. Goals from Samir Nasri and Vincent Kompany sealed Pellegrini’s first title, as City won the league with 86 points – two points ahead of Liverpool, having scored 102 goals over the course of campaign. During the wild title celebration scenes, a flag was unveiled with the face of Pellegrini, captioned: “This Charming Man” – who had incredibly led Manchester City to an eventual charming season.
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