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Manchester City 2021-22 season review - star player, best moment, standout result

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Manchester City's memorable 2021-22 season, which saw them win their fourth Premier League title in five seasons.

For the fourth time in five seasons and for the sixth time in their history, Manchester City are Premier League champions after successfully retaining their title on the final day in dramatic fashion.

The Citizens missed out on silverware in both domestic cups and Champions League glory still eludes them, but their recognition as England's finest remains intact, despite a closely-fought battle with title rivals Liverpool.

In a season full of highs, lows and plenty of drama, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Manchester City's memorable 2021-22 campaign.



SEASON OVERVIEW

Manchester City's Fernandinho lifts the trophy as he celebrates with teammates after winning the Premier League on May 22, 2022© Reuters

Final league position: 1st

EFL Cup: Fourth round

FA Cup: Semi-finals

Champions League: Semi-finals

Top scorer: Riyad Mahrez (24)

Most assists: Kevin De Bruyne (14)

After club legend Sergio Aguero bid farewell to the Etihad Stadium at the end of last season, Man City were on the hunt for a replacement and targeted England's Euro 2020 captain Harry Kane. However, Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy turned down four bids from the Citizens and refused to let the striker leave.

City were unable to recruit a new number nine and instead turned their attention to Jack Grealish, who became the first £100m player in English football when he arrived from Aston Villa in August.

Grealish made his debut just two days later, but he and Pep Guardiola's side began the new campaign on the wrong foot, as they lost 1-0 to Leicester City at Wembley in the Community Shield, before suffering defeat at Spurs by the same scoreline on the opening day of the Premier League season, although the latter result proved to be their only away loss in the league all season.

The Citizens then put together a seven-game unbeaten run across all competitions, including 5-0 wins over both Norwich and Arsenal, a 6-3 Champions League group-stage win over RB Leipzig and a slender 1-0 victory away at title contenders Chelsea.

Defeat in Europe away at Paris Saint-Germain and a 2-2 draw at Anfield against title rivals Liverpool would then follow for City, before their four-year dominance in the EFL Cup came to an end on October 27 when they were beaten 5-3 on penalties by West Ham United in the fourth round.

Just three days later, City then suffered a surprise 2-0 league defeat at home to Crystal Palace - a result which meant City had dropped 10 points from as many league matches and had slipped five points behind leaders Chelsea.

Guardiola's men quickly brushed aside this minor blip and went on to win 15 of their next 16 games across all competitions, scoring 45 goals in the process, with their only defeat coming in the Champions League away at RB Leipzig having already qualified as group winners.

A 1-1 draw at Southampton at the end of January ended their 12-game winning streak in the Premier League, although they still boasted a six-point lead at the summit over their nearest challengers Liverpool.

Manchester City players celebrating after scoring against Leeds United on December 14, 2021© Reuters

After four successive wins across all competitions in February, City ended the month with a disappointing 3-2 Premier League defeat against Tottenham at the Etihad, with summer transfer target Harry Kane scoring twice including a dramatic 95th-minute winner. Liverpool were now breathing down their necks as they moved to within three points of the summit.

City's comfortable 4-1 triumph over rivals Manchester United was their highlight in March, while their low point in this month was a goalless draw away at Crystal Palace, which allowed an in-form Liverpool outfit to move to within one point of the top.

In April, the Citizens faced a challenging set of fixtures with pairs of alternating games between Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. The Citizens edged past Atletico 1-0 in the Champions League quarter-finals after a fiery second leg in the Spanish capital, and in between these two ties they were able to draw 2-2 with Liverpool to keep the Premier League title race in their hands. Jurgen Klopp's men, however, gained revenge in the FA Cup semi-final as they beat an understrength City side 3-2 at Wembley.

Guardiola and co then came out on top in a seven-goal thriller in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final at home to Real Madrid, but despite winning the game the Citizens came away deflated having failed to register a more commanding lead.

Missed opportunities in both the first and second legs proved costly as City were condemned to a heartbreaking Champions League exit at the Santiago Bernabeu when Los Blancos produced a historic comeback in stoppage time with a brace from Rodrygo before Karim Benzema netted the winner in extra time. After suffering elimination from two cup competitions within a month, City had no other choice but to brush themselves down and put all their efforts into their final four Premier League fixtures.

Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers were the next two teams standing in their way, but City dismantled both clubs, winning by an aggregate score of 10-1, before having to rescue a point at West Ham United after going two goals down. Riyad Mahrez had the chance to win the game but missed from the penalty spot five minutes from the end, meaning the title race would be decided on the final day.

Man City knew that victory at home to Aston Villa would clinch the title, and while many football fans and pundits were confident they would get the job done, Steven Gerrard's men had other ideas. Villa were leading 2-0 heading into the final 15 minutes before three goals in five minutes from Ilkay Gundogan (2) and Rodri turned the game on its head in dramatic fashion. Liverpool also came from behind to beat Wolves, but it was City who held on to clinch their fourth title in five seasons, ending the 2021-22 season on a memorable high.



PREMIER LEAGUE STATS

Wins: 29 (1st)
Draws: 6 (=17th)
Losses: 3 (19th)
Goals scored: 99 (1st)
Goals conceded: 26 (=20th)
Yellow cards: 42 (20th)
Red cards: 2 (=9th)
Passes: 26,132 (1st)
Shots: 713 (2nd)
Big chances missed: 65 (1st)
Saves: 62 (20th)
Tackles: 498 (20th)
Own goals: 0 (20th)
Hit woodwork: 24 (1st)
Clearances: 368 (20th)



HOW DID IT COMPARE TO LAST SEASON?

Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on April 20, 2022© Reuters

City cruised to the title last season, claiming 86 points and finishing 12 clear of rivals Manchester United in second place. This term, the Citizens faced a much sterner test in their battle with Liverpool, but they actually ended the campaign with seven more points.

As for the other domestic competitions, City were unable to claim a fifth successive EFL Cup and saw their 1826-day run without defeat in the competition come to an end at the hands of West Ham in the fourth round back in October.

After losing in the semi-finals of the FA Cup to Arsenal in 2019-20 and then to Chelsea at the same stage last season, the Citizens were eliminated in the last four for the third consecutive campaign when a much-changed side were beaten 3-2 against Liverpool at Wembley last month.

The Champions League, meanwhile, remains an elusive holy grail for the Citizens as their loss to Chelsea in the final last season was followed by a dramatic semi-final exit at the hands of Real Madrid.

Just the one major trophy was picked up by City this season compared to a Premier League and EFL Cup double 12 months ago, but nevertheless, this year's top-flight triumph means they have now won 11 trophies in the last five years, lifting at least one piece of silverware in each season, a stark contrast to the zero claimed on the red side of Manchester during the same period.



PLAYER OF THE SEASON - KEVIN DE BRUYNE

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring their first goal with Raheem Sterling on April 10, 2022© Reuters

For the second time in three seasons, Kevin De Bruyne has been named the Premier League Player of the Season, joining an exclusive group alongside Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic in winning the award on more than one occasion.

The 30-year-old ended the campaign as City's top scorer in the Premier League and as the top-scoring midfielder in the division, with a career-high 15 strikes in 30 appearances. Across all competitions, the Belgian found the net 19 times and registered 14 assists in 45 games.

City have managed to cope when De Bruyne has not been in the side, winning 10 out of 12 matches in all tournaments, but when he does play, his influence is invaluable.

The Belgian has been a joy to watch for a number of years now and this campaign was another in which he made his mark, showcasing his talent on a consistent basis and playing a starring role in City's charge to the title.

The exciting prospect of De Bruyne linking up with summer signing Erling Braut Haaland next season is one City supporters are already licking their lips at heading into next season.



STANDOUT RESULT

Real Madrid's Rodrygo scores their second goal on May 4, 2022© Reuters

While there were a plethora of impressive results in 2021-22 which Man City can look back on with pride, their Champions League exit on May 4 is a standout result which they will want to quickly forget. The Citizens travelled to the Bernabeu with a 4-3 first-leg lead, although their advantage should have been greater considering the chances they missed at the Etihad.

City were on course to book their place in the final when Riyad Mahrez rifled a trademark left-footed strike into the top corner. Jack Grealish then came close to sealing the win with two efforts in the closing stages, firstly one cleared off the line by Eder Militao, before the left boot of Thibaut Courtois kept out the £100m man again just seconds later.

Those misses, and their wasted opportunities in the first leg, proved costly as Real Madrid somehow came back with two stoppage-time goals from substitute Rodrygo. A close-range tap in from the winger – Real's first shot on target – provided a glimmer of hope before the Brazilian rose above City's backline to head home and level the tie on aggregate. Within the space of just 84 seconds, City were forced into extra time.

In-form striker Karim Benzema then converted from the penalty spot after Ruben Dias had fouled him just three minutes after the interval, but without the likes of De Bruyne, Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus, who were all taken off by Guardiola in normal time, the Citizens were unable to find an equaliser and were sent packing in bitterly disappointing fashion.

On a positive note, City's impressive 5-1 victory away at Wolves just seven days later also deserves a mention, with Kevin De Bruyne scoring a 24-minute hat-trick before adding a fourth in the second half, to become only the third midfielder in Premier League history to score four goals in a single game, after Frank Lampard and Georginio Wijnaldum.

> Click here for a full list of Manchester City's results from the 2021-22 season



BEST MOMENT

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan celebrates scoring their third goal with Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden on May 22, 2022© Reuters

Ten years on from Sergio Aguero's iconic stoppage-time winner against Queens Park Rangers, Man City somehow created another 'once-in-a-lifetime moment' with their sensational final-day comeback victory over Aston Villa.

Pep Guardiola got his own 'Aguero moment', with substitute Ilkay Gundogan the architect of City's dramatic revival, netting two goals either side of Rodri's equaliser within the space of five minutes and 36 seconds.

Villa were initially two goals in front heading into the final 15 minutes courtesy of strikes either side of half time from Matty Cash and former Liverpool man Philippe Coutinho, but it was the champions who prevailed to retain their title on home soil, finishing just one point clear of Jurgen Klopp's side in second.

Nothing can ever match Aguero's 93:20 strike, but Gundogan's winner and City's comeback victory will be etched in the history books as one of the greatest title-deciding moments in Premier League history.



TOP PRIORITY FOR SUMMER

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola applauds the fans after the match on May 15, 2022© Reuters

Now that a deal has been agreed for Man City to sign striker Erling Braut Haaland this summer, replacing Fernandinho is set to be one of their top priorities in the upcoming transfer window.

The 37-year-old will be leaving the Etihad when his contract expires next month after nine years with the club, so the Citizens will likely target a defensive midfielder who will compete with Rodri for a place in the starting lineup.

City may also look to recruit a new left-back this summer. Joao Cancelo has excelled in this position throughout the 2021-22 campaign and Oleksandr Zinchenko has also performed well when called upon, but the Sky Blues may feel that this summer is the right time to bolster their squad with a natural left-back. Brighton & Hove Albion's Marc Cucurella is one name who they are believed to be keeping a close eye on.

Having said all that, however, the biggest deal of all would be a renewed contract for manager Pep Guardiola. To keep the Spanish mastermind at the Etihad beyond the expiry date of his current contract – June 2023 – would bring an immense sigh of relief to everyone associated with the club.

Guardiola revealed earlier this month that he would wait until the end of next season before considering his future, so City fans may have to wait some time before an announcement is made.

Working with the plethora of talented players at his disposal, watching players grow under his guidance such as Phil Foden, and now the arrival of Haaland will surely tempt Guardiola to stay for at least a few more years. City's new Norwegian striker could be the missing piece to the puzzle to secure an elusive Champions League crown.



FINAL VERDICT

Man City were at risk of finishing the 2021-22 campaign without a trophy as they headed into the final Premier League game of the season, an unimaginable concept considering how impressive they have been.

However, they managed to end the season on a high with yet another top-flight crown, and along with semi-final appearances in both the Champions League and FA Cup, Guardiola and co will be impressed with this term's showing.

The Citizens failed to recruit a centre-forward last summer and while they were still able to score plenty of goals, they also missed a number of chances in key games such as the Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid. Had a natural goalscorer been in their side on that occasion, they could have been celebrating more than one trophy this term.

Success in the Premier League has always been Guardiola's priority and it will be once again next season, but supporters will be keen to see their team improve in the other three major competitions as well. City will be competing on all fronts once again in 2022-23 and with the addition of Haaland to their ranks, they are set to be an even stronger proposition going forward.


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Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne with the match ball on May 11, 2022
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