City Xtra plays: Football Manager (Part Three)
That's right, we've played twenty matches since the last time I spoke to you and there's a lot to talk about. Today we face two of our toughest tests to date - Chelsea in the Premier League and Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup quarter-final. There's also our Champions League Round of 16 draw, and we prepare for the opening of a crucial January transfer window - more exciting news on that later!
You might be wondering why we chose to play three and a half months of our first season completely 'off-camera', and the answer will be clear when you see how results have been going for us in the domestic competitions. Besides one or two big games, it's mostly been a run-of-the-mill start to the season. I'll quickly run you through the results, but if you'd prefer to glance at the more compact list below then be my guest. Full details of every single match will also be in a slideshow at the bottom of the article, so if you want to know every goalscorer or a specific starting XI, that's the place to look.
- We started the run of games with a win at Villa Park, in which the first ever reader-voted signing, Milan Skriniar, got his first Manchester City goal.
- Sergio Agüero's incredible start to the season continued as he bagged four goals in a demolition of Newcastle United.
- Claudio Bravo missed our first Carabao Cup game of the season with food poisoning (something suspicious is going on in our kitchens), but a fantastic performance and a brace from Phil Foden saw us through.
- We thought we'd chucked away three points when Spurs came from behind to lead at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but Riyad Mahrez equalised in injury time to earn us a draw.
- Two Kevin de Bruyne rockets were the pick of the goals as we breezed past West Ham United at the Etihad.
- Both Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan scored absolute screamers as we thrashed Brighton & Hove Albion in their own back garden.
- We then kept up our momentum by easily dispatching Southampton, with David Silva scoring after just two minutes.
- Yet again Claudio Bravo was ruled out the day before a cup game- this time with a serious injury. However, goals from Nicolás Otamendi and Foden set us on our way to a 4-2 win at the Emirates, after which we drew Manchester United in the next round.
- The good run continued with a comfortable win over Watford, after which Aymeric Laporte was injured for several weeks. Much like in real life, our form took a big hit without the Frenchman.
- Our first defeat of the season came away from home against Sheffield United, and I have to say I have no idea how we didn't win that game. The Blades scored with their first effort on target but we just couldn't find our shooting boots.
- It was back to business with a brutal destruction of Norwich City in which Agüero got ANOTHER four goals after Foden opened the scoring.
- One of our best wins yet was followed by the most humiliating moment of the series so far. Arsenal came away 4-0 winners at the Emirates and, although the scoreline flattered them, my tactics were all wrong and it serves as an absolute low point of our time at the club.
- We recovered with an easy win against Crystal Palace, and Gabriel Jesus (who's hit a real vein of form) bagged a brace. Skriniar scored yet again- by now this was his third goal of the season!
- Finally, a disappointing draw at Everton means we've only won two of our last five league games. Onwards and upwards!
All of this means that as of December 14th 2019 we're top of the league- but only on goal difference! Like us, Chelsea and Arsenal sit on 38 points from a possible 38, yet we've scored far more than either side so far. Liverpool, on 36 points, are the only other team in the title race as things stand. You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the Champions League yet- we'll get to that later on, just before we see the draw for the next round!
A few more things to mention before we begin today's first game. Most importantly, loads of you voted on a poll on our Instagram story asking whether we should sell Leroy Sané. I'm extremely grateful to everyone who took part by voting, so thank you for getting involved! In the end, 56% of you wanted us to try and offload the German, so that's what we're going to do. It may not be possible until the summer due to his injury issues, but we'll certainly do our best.
There was some brief concern as John Stones came to me to ask for a loan move due to a lack of minutes. I realised that I'd underused John somewhat because of the strong form of Laporte and Skriniar, and the Englishman cheered up after getting a few games while Laporte was injured. We also gave Ederson a bumper new contract because he felt he was underpaid compared to some of his teammates (which I can't really argue with seeing as he was being paid less than Otamendi or Bravo).
If you follow me on Twitter (I post some bonus FM content on @nallensports) you might have seen a screenshot I tweeted about Sergio Agüero's ridiculously good start to the season. He's now won all four Premier League Player of the Month awards and has a phenomenal 21 goals in 16 league starts- over twice as many as the league's second-top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with 10. Kevin De Bruyne has 11 assists so far, putting him top of that chart too.
Unfortunately, there's been some bad blood between me and my associates in Wales since the last instalment. I had no choice but to hold a strongly-worded phone call with Swansea manager Steve Cooper about the disgraceful lack of minutes Mix Diskerud was getting during his loan spell. Cooper, terrified by my alpha presence, timidly agreed to start the American more often. Finally, it's worth mentioning that I loaned out Adrián Bernabé to Southend in League One shortly after the last part was published. Anyway, that's enough round-up, let's get into the games!
First up is a huge match against third-place Chelsea at the Etihad. Frank Lampard's men are only behind us on goal difference going into the match, so it's close enough to a must-win if we want to win the league (which we do, or we'll get sacked). I put out our best available XI for this match, as I always do for the big games, but Kyle Walker is suspended for picking up too many yellow cards. Leroy Sané and Claudio Bravo are still injured.
It’s an extremely cagey first half, the highlight of which is Bernardo Silva smashing the bar from a close-range header. Even though we’ve been by far the better team I decide to give the boys a bit of a bollocking at half-time. After all, this is a must-win match, and I can’t let them go out after the break feeling relaxed. I want my players to be in an almost constant state of uneasiness and stress, so I tell them to show me something else in the second half.
In a rare and unexpected turn of events, my team talk works and it’s none other than Kevin de Bruyne who gives us the lead early in the second half. The Belgian robs Emerson and powers home a low drive from the edge of the box. 1-0 City, and as it stands we’re staying at the top of the league.
Probably shaken by the goal from their former player, Chelsea absolutely collapse and it’s not long before Agüero makes it two. This time Kepa Arrizabalaga is absolutely culpable for the goal, letting a pretty tame shot from a tight angle squirm under his body and in. Shortly after, substitute Mahrez heads in City’s third and completes an absolute rout. I’m so confident of the three points that I chuck on Stones and Zinchenko to rest some players for the next game. The visit of Chelsea has turned into one of our best wins of the season, which is impressive seeing as we beat Liverpool 2-6 in part 2.
That victory keeps us at the top of the table by the skin of our teeth, with Arsenal able only behind on goal difference after demolishing Spurs 6-0. As is all too common in our line of work, though, we can’t dwell on the game for long. There’s always another important match just around the corner.
You’ll remember that I said we would talk about the Champions League group stage separately. I wanted to do that because it was an extremely weird six matches for us, in which we really didn’t perform very well but still managed to come out on top.
These are our results across all six matchdays in the competition, but I’ll run you through each game quickly now:
- We kicked off the group stage with a shaky showing in Lille, where mistakes from both full-backs meant we needed a late Bernardo Silva equaliser to come home with a point.
- A Fernandinho masterclass saw us demolish Napoli at home, with both the midfielder and Raheem Sterling scoring twice.
- We then suffered a disappointing and somewhat harsh defeat away to Leverkusen despite Sterling getting on the scoresheet yet again.
- In the reverse fixture, we played awfully but still scraped a win against the Germans thanks largely to David Silva's early goal.
- A comfortable home win over Lille saw us surprisingly qualify as group winners with a game to spare, despite a very mediocre tournament from us so far.
- Scott Carson made his City debut, while Eric García, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle also played in the dead rubber in Naples. I expected a defeat but a magnificent performance from our backup brigade bought home all three points! I did mention in the last chapter that we'd be focusing on this game today but it ended up being totally irrelevant as we qualified early anyway.
And as you can see, that all means we easily finished top of our group in the end, with Napoli being the unlucky side who didn't even make it to the Europa League. In the Round of 16 draw, these are our potential opponents:
Of course, we can't draw Bayer Leverkusen because they progressed from the same group as us, nor can we end up facing Chelsea as they're English. It's probably fair to say that we're hoping to avoid Dortmund and Atlético, with Shakhtar being my ideal draw...
But we did indeed get Borussia Dortmund! We'll be playing both legs against the German side in one of the next two parts of the series, in a really interesting tie. Jadon Sancho is coming back to face his former club, and we'll also be battling players like Marco Reus and Mats Hummels. It's certainly one of the toughest teams we could possibly have drawn, but I know we're still favourites to go through to the quarter-finals.
No time to waste, though: we have a Derby to play. It's Manchester United away in the Carabao Cup quarter-final and we need to get past the Red Devils if we want a spot in the two-legged next round. The board don't care about this competition but I do- the Carabao is the lifeblood of this football club, and Carabao makes up a notable percentage of Txiki Begiristain's vein content at this point. We don't mess around with the team selection. Bravo is injured and I'm not taking any chances.
The first half is extremely reminiscent of the Chelsea match from earlier today. We're on top, creating more chances and bossing possession, but it's cagey. There aren't many clear-cut opportunities being fashioned, and the best moment of the first period of play arrives when Benjamin Mendy smashes the post from long range. That is, until the breakthrough comes on the stroke of half time- but for whom?
It's Mendy involved again, running onto Fernandinho's beautiful cross-field ball and swinging in an inch-perfect delivery for Riyad Mahrez, who scores his second goal in two games. The away end at Old Trafford goes wild as all 45,000 home fans are silenced. We've found the opening goal, and it's courtesy of a sensational diving header across the goalkeeper from our Algerian wizard.
And yet the second half is uneventful. As the game falls into a familiar pattern, we fail to break United down, they win the ball back and we press until they concede possession again. Eventually the match starts to flow into the dying seconds. At this point I decide to see out the win with some classic Pep Guardiola clock-running tactics. While Aymeric Laporte prepares to come on in injury time, I send Bernardo Silva to the corner flag and order Kyle Walker to abuse a ball boy. My strategies work and the game ends 0-1, leaving Mahrez the hero of the second Manchester Derby of the season.
So just before we end this part of the CityXtra Football Manager series, I'll quickly run you through the EFL Cup semi-final draw. Chelsea are in the pot for the next round, as is whoever wins in an upcoming clash between Liverpool and Birmingham. However, I don't mean any disrespect when I say that I'm hoping to draw Reading, who beat Bristol City to reach this stage. Let's see if we can get lucky...
We can't! We'll face either Liverpool or Birmingham City in the two-legged semi-final of the Carabao Cup, as Chelsea face Reading. If Liverpool do indeed beat Birmingham, you'll see our showdown with Klopp's men in the next part of the series.
The final exciting bit of news is that the board came to me and told me that they'd decided to increase our transfer budget! We blew almost all of our initial money on Skriniar, but they've kindly pumped an extra £70m into the coffers. This changes everything- suddenly we can afford to manoeuvre in the January transfer window. Because of this, I'm once again asking you all for suggestions. Who do you want to see us sign in January? There are no spaces in the Champions League squad as things stand, so who should we move on to make room? The other option is signing a player and immediately loaning them back to their parent club for the rest of the season, therefore removing the need to register them until the summer.
Whatever your thoughts, please do let me know your transfer plans for our club with comments on this page, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook- any will get to me and will be considered for the polls coming up on the City Xtra Instagram page very soon. For now, though, thank you so much for reading and supporting the series, and we'll be back as the Cityzens face either Liverpool or Borussia Dortmund in next week's instalment, as well as covering the January transfer window- where I'll just say that some long-serving faces could be leaving the club, and one or two big names could also arrive. See you then!
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