For most clubs, runners-up in the Premier League and an FA Cup final would be a fine effort, but Manchester City aren't most clubs. After sealing their first League title for 44 years in 2012, this season was a disappointment and - much like the “instant-success-required” policy adopted by the hierarchy at Chelsea - manager Roberto Mancini paid for it with his job.
The early home defeat to Manchester United combined with terrible away form throughout the league campaign contributed to the club finishing a massive 11 points behind Manchester United, which in itself would be deemed a poor season for the reigning champions of England. On top of this, the club suffered a catastrophic Champions League campaign, crashing out at the first group stage. Yes, they were in a "Group of Death" along with Real Madrid, Borussia Dormund and Ajax, but failing to win a game was embarrassing for everyone involved with Manchester City. They were also knocked out of the Capital One Cup at the first hurdle, losing 4-2 to Aston Villa, and of course suffered a shock defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup final.
So where did it go wrong? Well, it wasn't helpful that Mancini spent much of the season criticising the board for their lack of backing in the transfer market. He did have a point as City missed out on his main transfer targets, including the critical signing of Robin van Persie, but the club still spent £60million. Unfortunately it was on the likes of Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell, who all disappointed. They lost the influential Nigel de Jong and Mario Balotelli, with neither player replaced with the required quality, Kolo Toure was frozen out, so it could be argued that Mancini actually had a weaker squad to work with than the previous season.
The Italian manager also appeared to lose the dressing room, criticising players in the press after mistakes, falling out with Samir Nasri (admittedly not that difficult to do) and fighting on the training ground with Balotelli. His tactics were questioned as City players suggested they had not practised a new look 3-5-2 formation in training, and their attacking build up play lacked the cutting edge that their fans had come to expect.
It wasn't all down to Mancini however. Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and the outgoing Balotelli failed to score the expected number of goals, while Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva all failed to produce the level of performance seen in the previous season. Nasri ducking out of the wall when van Persie struck his winning free-kick in injury-time is something the manager can do nothing about and this produced a key 3 point swing early in the season, while Joe Hart was guilty of some uncharacteristic mistakes which cost City points along the way.
There were a few high points, namely the 2-1 win at Old Trafford, the 2-0 win at Arsenal, some fine performances at home and a run to the FA Cup final, but it was not enough for the City board. Mancini was sacked by chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain exactly one year after sealing the Premier League title, for "failing to achieve any of its stated targets this year".
The board have lined-up Manuel Pellegrini to replace Mancini and he is due to be named this week having left his job at Malaga. This hasn't prevented the purchasing of players, suggesting City plan to follow a continental approach whereby they hire a coach (Pellegrini) to focus on the tactics and training, while the directors (Begiristain & Soriano) focus on the club's transfer targets.
- Pablo Zabaleta: The ever-reliable Argentine has been the star performer for Manchester City throughout the season. Solid in defence, increasingly threatening in attack and a tireless worker, the right-back had rarely put a foot wrong until his red-card in the FA Cup final. The chances of Micah Richards reclaiming his starting place are slim-to-none.
- Matija Nastasic: The young Serbian has been a revelation in the center of defence after replacing the disappointing Stefan Savic. While the form of Vincent Kompany has faltered, Nastasic stayed strong and kept Lescott out of the team. Extremely unlucky not be involved in the Young Player of the Year nominations.
- Edin Dzeko: You may be surprised to see Dzeko on this list, but the fact is he scored 14 league goals despite starting just 16 games and he has a better goals per minute record than both Aguero and Tevez over the past two season. He can count himself unlucky that he was forced to spend so much time on the bench.
- Joe Hart: As mentioned in the review, Hart was guilty of a number of high profile mistakes for both club and country this season. Some analysts have suggested over-confidence, but perhaps it's simply a lack of competition at either level which has caused a slip in concentration. Both City and England will be hoping for a vast improvement next season.
- Yaya Toure: Failed to reach the heights of his epic debut season and often looked tired towards the end of matches, with his drive from midfield sorely lacking. The acquisition of Fernandinho should allow Yaya to share the load next season.
- Joleon Lescott: From first choice England centre back at the Euros to City bench-warmer within a few months. May seek a move this summer.
- David Silva: Much like Yaya Toure, Silva looked fatigued and lacked the spark of the previous campaign. Some quality additions to the attacking midfield should help ease the pressure on the little Spaniard.
- Sergio Aguero: Injured in the opening match, Aguero never looked fully match sharp until the closing months of the season, capped by his magnificant winner at Old Trafford. A full pre-season should help him regain that form that helped win City the title.
- Samir Nasri: Argued with the manager, failed to show 100% effort on the pitch at all times, drew criticism from the fans and will probably leave the club if City can find an adequate replacement.
- Vincent Kompany: The captain suffered a sustained period of poor performances and looked a shadow of the player who was named the League's Player of the Season in 2011/12. It will be interesting to see if the Belgian defender can re-discover his best form for the new campaign.
- Finalise the Pellegrini deal: As mentioned, the lack of a manager hasn't stopped the City hierarchy from bringing in new players and tying existing squad members to longer contracts, but it's key that Pellegrini is brought in as quickly as possible to allow him time to settle and get to know his squad ahead of the new season. He could well have been unveiled by the time you read this.
- Striker: Either Edin Dzeko or Carlos Tevez are expected to be leaving the club this summer so City will be looking to sign an additional world-class striker to work alongside Sergio Aguero.
- Attacking Midfielder/s: Fernandinho has already be signed as the defensive minded midfielder but City will be looking for some more attacking options to take some of the weight off David Silva.
- Center-back: With Lescott out of favour and Kolo Toure leaving for Liverpool on a free transfer, City could do with signing some cover for Kompany and Nastatsic.
- Jesus Navas: A fee has been agreed so it appears simply a matter of time before the Spanish winger completes his deal. The club must be certain that the Spain international is fully over his home-sickness.
- Edison Cavani: The world class striker City are looking for, but they face competition from Chelsea and Real Madrid. The option of including Edin Dzeko as part of the deal could give them the edge, but any deal will be approaching £50million in total.
- Stevan Jovetic: The Fiorentina striker is repeatedly linked, but City are only likely to turn to him if they fail in their Cavani bid.
- Stephan El Shaarawy: City are rumoured to be keen on the young Italian striker who finished the season as AC Milan's top scorer. Milan have also been linked to Carlos Tevez, so it's possible a deal could be struck between the two clubs.
- Isco: The Malaga midfielder is expected to follow his ex-manager Pellegrini to join up with him in Manchester.
- Angel di Maria: The Real Madrid attacking midfielder is another option linked to the club, but it seems unlikely he will be making the move if Jesus Navas and Isco complete their transfers.
- Pepe: Linked to Chelsea and City but the Portugese defender may prove too expensive given that center-back is not a priority position.
Will Pellegrini prove to be a successful appointment? Can he win City the title next season?