To paraphrase the Crash Test Dummies: Mmmm. It’s time for part nine of our catch-up of three years of simulated seasons from June 2015 until now. We’re going to take a look at the big two Manchester clubs, and have a quick whizz around the international scene with some managerial updates.
Three seasons ago, City were denied at the death in the closest Premier League season to date. With just five minutes of the season remaining, they sat two points ahead of United. City were winning at relegated Southampton, while United were being held at home by Stoke.
That all changed in the 86th minute at Old Trafford when Danny Welbeck headed home a United winner and the team from Old Trafford won the title on goal difference: +44 to City’s +38. City had scored two more goals, but shipped eight more than United. City went on to take their frustrations out on Olympiakos by winning the Europa League, and lifted the FA Cup after a win against West Brom.
The 2015-16 season saw Javier Aguirre dismissed at Christmas, just a few months after a £40m summer spend that included the £21m capture of Alex Sandro from Porto. City had lost both the Community Shield (to United) and the UEFA SuperCup (to Chelsea), before being dumped out of the Champions League after finishing behind Juventus and Sporting. Five defeats in six in December cost Aguirre his job.
In came Laurent Blanc, tasked with the job of a top four finish and retaining the Europa League. City battled through to the FA Cup 6th Round but were knocked out at Reading. Rapid Vienna, Pescara, Swansea and Rubin Kazan were beaten in the Europa League before losing to Arsenal in the Final.
The league season ended with a win at Anfield, but once again City finished behind United on goal difference… however it was Tottenham who lifted the Premier League trophy in May 2016, finishing 23 points ahead of the two Manchester sides in 2nd an 3rd.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the club’s only summer transfer of note, arriving from Arsenal for £20m. The club started the season well, making the Champions League knockout stages after they finished behind PSG in their group, and putting in a decent title challenge. However it all unravelled as Blanc left and the club faltered, winning just one in seven over the festive period, before going out to Barcelona in the Champions League.
New manager Oleg Luzhnyi arrived, as did January signings
In the spring, City won twelve on the bounce domestically and put themselves in the FA Cup Final after wins against Crewe, West Ham, WBA, Leicester and Southampton. Norwich were their opponents at Wembley, and the Canaries won it after coming from behind in extra-time to win their first-ever FA Cup.
A win at Chelsea put City just a point behind them ahead of the final day, but defeat at Spurs while Chelsea thrashed Aston Villa meant it was Chelsea who took the 2016-17 title. City would finish 3rd, behind Spurs in 2nd – again on goal difference.
2017-18 started well, with summer transfers including offloading De Bruyne to Liverpool for £19m, and bringing in Manolo Gabbiadini from Juventus for £10m. Domestically the team looked strong, and they went 6 for 6 in their Champions League group against AC Milan, CSKA Moscow, and Copenhagen.
The direction of the club’s focus was obvious as the team fielded reserves in both domestic cup competitions and went out at the first opportunity in both. However, back-to-back defeats against Chelsea and Liverpool were enough for the board to pull the trigger again, and Luzhnyi was replaced by Luciano Spalletti.
The club then drew six of their next seven, and top of the table rapidly started to disappear out of view. Defeat in Europa came at the hands of Valencia. City came back from Spain following a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla, but were dumped out with a 0-3 home defeat.
A late rally in the league put them back in contention for the top four, and a win against Norwich on the final day sealed fourth spot behind Spurs, Chelsea, and United.
As above, last time we checked in on United they’d just lifted their 21st league title with a dramatic last-gasp win to snatch it from their city rivals. £60m was spent that summer to add to the squad with the arrivals of Moritz Leitner (Leverkusen), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Spurs), and the remarkable triple-signing of Pedro, Miroslav Stoch, and José Enrique from Arsenal.
First bragging rights of the 2015-16 season went United’s way with a shootout win over Man City in the Community Shield, and the club went through to the new year comfortably including winning their Champions League group against Leverkusen, BATE Borisov, and Marseille.
Chelsea knocked United out of the Carabao Cup on penalties in the Quarters, while City triumphed at the Etihad in the FA Cup to end a domestic cup run for United. Inter and Benfica were dispatched in the Champions League, but Real Madrid proved too strong in the Semi-Finals. United ended the season with a thumping of Everton, but Spurs had the league sewn up by the end of March.
Toni Kroos joined from Bayern in a £35m summer signing, with the club making over £60m in sales including the transfers of Shinji Kagawa (Real Madrid), Douglas Costa (Barcelona), and Milan Badelj (Dortmund) making-up over £40m of that.
2016-17 mirrored the previous season. Early domestic cup defeat, a charge through to the Champions League Semis, and a tilt at the title which evaporated by March. Inter Milan, Anderlecht, and Bilbao were among those beaten to put United into the last-eight in Europe where they got revenge over Real Madrid with a shootout win, before going out to eventual winners Spurs. Chelsea won the 2017 title, with United in fourth 12 points behind, but beating Liverpool to the final Champions League spot.
£45m was spent last summer which brought in Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Siyanda Xulu (Dortmund), and Son Heung-Min (Swansea), and United suffered only two defeats in their opening sixteen matches to look commanding at the top of the table. Lille, Sparta Prague, and Bayern Munich were seen-off in the Champions League.
With the club through to the latter stages of the FA Cup, fixtures piled up and United wobbled in February and March, slipping behind Spurs and Chelsea in the league while Atlético Madrid won on penalties in the Champions League last sixteen. United were still fighting on one front though, and AFC Wimbledon, Chelsea, Bolton, Reading, and Arsenal were all beaten in the FA Cup to book a Final place against Sunderland.
United won their last six, but couldn’t close the ground on Tottenham and Chelsea in the league and had to settle for third, as Spurs wrestled their title back from their London rivals.
At Wembley, Sunderland were reduced to ten men in the 7th minute, and the result was inevitable with Manchester United running out 5-2 winners to lift their first domestic cup since 2014. José Mourinho remains in charge, having been appointed as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor in June 2014.
On the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, here’s who is managing who:
GROUP A Serbia Sinisa Mihajlovic South Korea Choi Kang-Hee Spain [TBC] Uruguay Gus Poyet GROUP B Australia Ernie Merrick Germany Jürgen Klopp Morocco Rachid Taoussi Rep.Ireland Owen Coyle GROUP C Ghana Kwaku Ali® Italy Roberto Mancini Saudi Arabia Frank Rijkaard Wales Dean Saunders GROUP D England Martin Jol Honduras Danny Mena® Russia Unai Emery Tunisia Aymen Jabeur® GROUP E Argentina Diego Simeone Egypt Alaa Issa France Didier Deschamps United States Jürgen Klinsmann GROUP F Austria Mirko Slomka Brazil Tite Costa Rica Jeaustin Campos Slovakia Stanislav Griga GROUP G Bosnia & Herz. Slavisa Stojanovic Chile Juan Meneses® Ivory Coast Sabri Lamouchi Japan Daisuke Itô® GROUP H Colombia Oscar Pereja Croatia Igor Stimac Mexico José Manuel de la Torre Scotland Malky Mackay