Normally, most of us greet an international break with all due disdain and sighing. Its two weeks without City, watching players we probably don’t support play in a match we’re almost certainly not going to win if it’s against anyone really decent, and to top it all off the risk of getting an injury to a key player seems to double whilst they’re on international duty. Despite all that though, this international break has all a welcome bit of rest after a tough few weeks that have seen us crash out of one competition, and further damage our chances in two more. But, can our season still be successful?
In order to answer that, we need to accept that this year is never going to live up to what we would have wanted – or maybe even expected – it to. In order to consider this a successful year we need to alter our expectations to take into account the Capital One Cup exit and the fact we’re currently fourth in our Champions League group. In August, very few of us would have expected that to be the case three months on.
By now, it’s looking like Chelsea are the clear favourites for this year’s league title, and probably deservedly so. But, it’s very difficult to go through a 9 month league season without enduring a bad spell at some point – much like we did in the two seasons we did. We’ve got to hope that happens to Chelsea too, and that when it does we’re still close enough to be able to capitalise on it. Disappointing draws for them on their two visits to Manchester have shown they aren’t invincible by any definition of the word. They can be beaten, and we need to make sure we punish them when they are.
Even if we aren’t going to challenge Chelsea for the title, the next priority has to be making sure we make it into the Champions League next season. It’s bad enough performing as badly as we have done in the past, it’s another thing completely to not qualify at all. I’ve got a sneaky feeling if we finished in a position where we didn’t qualify, Pellegrini would almost certainly be on his way. I’m fairly confident we can secure Champions League for next year, but football’s a funny game.
Of course, it’s not technically impossible for us to qualify for the knockout stages this time round; it just needs a large helping of luck. Bayern are out of sight, like we always knew they would be. However, CSKA and Roma are both only two points ahead of us. They still need to play each other in Russia, and Bayern still need to come to the Etihad before we make the trip to Italy for the final game, but it’s still achievable. Get a win against Bayern and hope CSKA and Roma draw in Moscow and our chances suddenly get a lot bigger. Provided we can win in Rome, of course.
Given the ‘5 trophies in 5 years’ brief that Pellegrini was given on his arrival at the club, I think one of our priorities needs to be a challenge for the FA Cup. It did wonders for us last time we won it, and whilst the circumstances are massively different now, I’m sure that most City fans would still take it if it meant silverware this season. It could easily mean Pellegrini kept his job, because very few people who know what they’re doing like our owners do are going to argue with 3 trophies in 2 seasons. It could be better, but the stats don’t lie.
To answer my earlier question of whether success can still be achieved this season, I think it depends on what you’d define as success. I’ve been settled into the mind-set of this being a comparatively poor season since the summer, but given what’s happened since August, I think success for me would be qualifying for the Champions League group stages, having a good run in the FA Cup (if not going all the way) and possibly a good run in the Europa League if we can finish 3rd in our Champions League group. Then, we improve the squad and get some younger players in next summer, and we go from there.