Having secured their second Premier League title in three years last season, Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini set his sights on more silverware in 2014-15, but the Chilean’s squad faltered.
City ultimately struggled to cope with the pressure of being champions and lost ground on Chelsea, despite a run of seven successive wins before the end of 2014.
With the inspirational Yaya Toure and newly acquired Wilfried Bony at the Africa Cup of Nations in January, they stuttered immediately following the turn of the year with only five wins from 14 matches, a run that ended their title hopes and enabled Chelsea to finish as champions.
EARLY SETBACK EXPOSES DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES
Having called for a “better start” to the campaign, Pellegrini could only watch on as City’s defence were ripped to shreds by Arsenal in the Community Shield, Matija Nastasic – who later left for Schalke – particularly exposed in a 3-0 defeat at Wembley.
Eliaquim Mangala’s arrival was supposed to address their deficiencies in defence but he took time to settle, and City only won two of their opening five Premier League matches – including a 1-0 home defeat to Stoke City.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PROGRESS
There were some positives for City though, as they battled through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League for a second successive season at the expense of Roma.
A Sergio Aguero hat-trick – including two in the last five minutes – inspired a 3-2 win over Bayern Munich in the group stages, but the magical Argentinian – who finished the season with 32 goals in all competitions – was unable to see them past Barcelona in the Round of 16.
“We’ve gone out to a magnificent side but that’s the second time in two years, which is disappointing for us,” goalkeeper Joe Hart told Sky Sports afterwards.
FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY RESTRICTIONS
City’s spending 12 months earlier placed them in hot water as the January transfer window approached, the club being hit with UEFA sanctions having fallen foul of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.
One particularly damaging sanction was the announcement to cut their Champions League squad from 25 to 21 players, while Pellegrini was also frustrated at being unable to strengthen his squad apart from the arrival of Bony.
MID-SEASON OPTIMISM DISAPPEARS IN 2015
Despite City’s problems in the league, they were still able to find form up to late December and were joint top with Chelsea on January 1. However, the wheels promptly fell off to gift the title to Jose Mourinho’s side.
Key matches against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal were all lost, while they were beaten 1-0 at Turf Moor by strugglers Burnley and failed to beat Hull City at the Etihad – drawing 1-1.
That poor form enabled Chelsea to wrap up the title with three games to go, with City settling for second, prompting Pellegrini to say: “This year we lost many, many points, especially at home against not so strong teams.”
Disappointments in the league were echoed in the cup as they failed to get past the fourth round in either domestic competition, losing twice at home to end their dreams.
Having been pushed all the way by Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup third round, their luck did not last as Middlesbrough stunned the Etihad with a 2-0 victory in their next outing.
The League Cup offered even less encouragement, as City were dumped out by Newcastle United in round four late in October, sparking more defensive worries.
“We are conceding goals,” Pellegrini told BBC Radio 5Live at the time. “We are not moving the ball as fast as we normally do. It was not a good week. We must continue trying to recover.”
LAMPARD BOWS OUT
One of the most iconic midfielders in Premier League history, Frank Lampard found his way to City having initially left Chelsea at the end of last season bound for New York City in MLS.
However, with the new franchise having to wait for his debut, Lampard was allowed to join sister club City on loan. Almost inevitably, he made an impact – including scoring against his former in September, one of six goals for City.
“It’s a really difficult one,” he said after snatching the equaliser against Chelsea. “I’d be unprofessional if I didn’t come on and do my job. I am a little lost for words. I didn’t expect to come on and score like that.”
Lampard fittingly scored again on the final day as Pellegrini’s men beat Southampton 2-0 to finish eight points adrift of Chelsea as runners-up.