Man City title defence in the spotlight
Following the 2-0 victory at Newcastle on Sunday, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini told the BBC that he was keen to avoid the failure that the Blues had in defending their first-ever Premier League title. "This team won the title two years ago," he said. "And the next season was a disaster."
Meanwhile, the Manchester Evening News this week ran a story about the champions aiming to beat the history books. It turns out that most winning teams don't retain the crown, with Paul Handler's piece explaining that just over a fifth of winners manage to take the title in consecutive seasons.
Immediately, thoughts turn to Roberto Mancini's time in charge with the club and specifically his final season. At the time, City's defence of the title was deemed to be one of the worst in history -- though Blackburn's nightmare in 1995-96 (out of it with six games to go) had to run it close; City's 2012-13 campaign was over with four matches left.
Meanwhile, Manchester United went down the "anything you can do, we can do better" route in 2013-14 and certainly threw their hats in the ring for the prize, although their history is full of back-to-back successes.
The Blues have never successfully defended a title. They're now four-time winners of England's top division and in the campaign after their championship, City have never really looked like retaining it. Bizarrely, that worst-ever defence was the year they finished closest on points to the eventual winners -- they ended 11 points behind United, compared to the 16- and 27-point gaps in 1938 and 1969 respectively.
The truth is, City will be there or thereabouts this season. They may not win the league, but they'll certainly be in the reckoning come the final weeks of the season, rather than lagging far behind the leaders as they did last time. Even then, though, the assumption that 2012-13 was one of the worst title defences in history doesn't take into account the sheer comedy nature of life at the Etihad and previously at Maine Road.
It's here where we flick the history books back to before the Second World War. In 1937, City finished top of Division One for the very first time, pipping Charlton Athletic to the championship by three points. The following year, their haul of 36 points was 21 fewer than they had achieved the year before and wasn't enough to get them anywhere near retaining the crown.
In fact, it saw them finish second bottom. The Blues were spared the embarrassment of propping up the table by their goal average, as they finished level on points with West Bromwich Albion. Both were relegated.
It's the only time in English football's history where the top division winners have gone down the year after and, in a strange way, I'm proud to have that "honour" with Manchester City. It sort of sums the club up in a way nothing else can.
Of course, Pellegrini will have no worries of relegation. The Chilean's concerns will once again most likely stem from West London, North London and Merseyside. However, the manager is going to face added pressure to better last season's performances in both the FA Cup and the Champions League, while not losing any ground in the League Cup and Premier League, too.
That makes this summer's added strength in depth to the squad vital -- supporters are willing to forgive not retaining the championship, providing there is sufficient progress elsewhere (especially in Europe.) After all, it wasn't the displays on the pitch that got Mancini sacked, but the atmosphere behind the scenes; the fans were willing to give him more time to rectify the performance problems.
Following the opening weekend, it's clear who the contenders will be. It's no wonder Chelsea are installed as favourites given how impressive they looked, though we have to remember that the season is only just beginning and their opponents were the main candidates for finishing bottom. Aside from the Stamford Bridge side, Arsenal, Liverpool and indeed City didn't look at their best.
We're probably going to learn a lot more about the champions in the coming weeks, as their fixture list provides a series of very tough early tests. Either way, given how the history books read for the Blues as title-holders, however they do this year will probably be better than any of their other title defences.