Etihad Ten: 2012/13 -The case for the defence
- 10 June 2013 09:58
- Posted by @porter_mcfc
While the previous campaign will always be remembered for attacking prowess and winning the Premier League via the most dramatic finish imaginable, 2012/13 was a year for defensive heroes.
The names Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli tripped off the tongue as easily as the goals rolled in on the way to title glory, last term Pablo Zabaleta and Matija Nastasic climbed highest to firmly embed themselves in fan affections.
The EPL crown was won by a City side that thrilled watching crowds and was almost universally lauded as the best in the league.
As a result, there was disappointment that the Blues were not able to defend the title until the last day of the following season, and appeared to lose some attacking flair.
After waving goodbye to Nigel de Jong in August, fans and headline writers mourned as one when the enigmatic Mario Balotelli swapped Manchester for Milan in January.
However, the battle-hardened defence displayed the grit, strength and skill shown in the previous term.
City had the meanest back line in the Premier League, conceding just 34 goals in the division all season, and at the campaign’s conclusion Joe Hart slipped his hands into a third consecutive Golden Glove award.
Few embodied the defensive spirit quite like Zabaleta, who was voted the Etihad Player of the Year by a landslide. Selected for the PFA Team of the Year by his peers, such was the Argentine’s impact that many voices questioned his absence from the Player of the Year shortlist.
In a game that often values those who score goals over those who prevent them, it’s a refreshing reminder that those at the back are vital pieces of a successful puzzle, even if that’s unlikely to be reflected in the national awards any time soon!
When the transfer window rattled shut last summer, perhaps few would have expected the youngest of City’s newest quartet to make the biggest impact.
While Jack Rodwell and Maicon suffered stuttering injury-hit debut seasons and Scott Sinclair found limited opportunities to impress, Nastasic ousted Joleon Lescott from the first choice backline to become an integral part of the side.
Just two years after turning out for a second division side in Serbia, he was pulling on a City shirt for the first time in the Bernabeu for the most intimidating of debuts.
Goals from Edin Dzeko and Aleks Kolarov were ultimately to prove fruitless as the Blues went down 3-2, hit by a late Cristiano Ronaldo show.
It turned out to be the first act in a disappointing European campaign as the Blues were drawn in the ‘group of Champions’ – facing off against Real Madrid, Ajax and eventual finalists Borussia Dortmund in the hunt for an elusive place in the knock out stages.
Nastasic though, had shown on the European stage exactly why the Blues had been so keen to prize the 20-year-old away from Fiorentina, winning plaudits from teammates, journalists and fans.
Robbed of the services of Micah Richards and Maicon for much of the season, and with Vincent Kompany also spending time on the sidelines, the defensive unit chopped and changed but largely remained unflustered.
Lescott and Kolo Toure ably deputised when called upon, and the Blues didn’t let in a single goal during January.
But a slump which began as the month drew to a close could later be defined as a turning point. Sandwiched either side of a pulsating home draw with Liverpool, a drab 0-0 with QPR and a shock 3-1 defeat away at Southampton made for bleak viewing.
The defence though received further credit during an FA Cup run where the Blues swatted the opposition aside to reach a Wembley semi-final without conceding once.
Those upfront were determined to sneak into the headlines, putting four past Leeds and five past Barnsley, as well as firing in three against Watford, including a goal for young debutant, Marcos Lopes.
Against Stoke, though, it required one Zabaleta to dance upfield in the dying minutes to unlock a home defence also proving steely. The passion reflected in his exuberant celebration spoke volumes of the man himself, and his love for the club.
As a disappointing league campaign limped towards a drab conclusion, the Blues had restored some pride by regaining derby bragging rights. Aguero – who else? - crafted a beautiful finish for the winner at Old Trafford after gliding through a defence that couldn’t contain him.
Sadly, it wouldn’t provide a springboard for the final league fixtures, and after City went down to Spurs at the end of the month Manchester United were handed the chance to win the title with a routine win over Aston Villa.
A disappointing May also brought the exit of Roberto Mancini after 3 ½ years in charge. The Italian’s arrival heralded a new period of success for the club, Mancini bringing trophies as well as a winning mentality to the Etihad.
After ending 35 years of hurt by lifting the FA Cup in 2011, he followed it up with a first ever Premier League trophy 12 months later – something many supporters could scarcely have imagined just a few years earlier.
Bring on 2013/14!