The fourth in our series of end of season articles from members who write match reports across the season. Today Colin Murrant gives his views on last season and looking forwards to next.
Before the season started what were your hopes on what we could achieve?
I thought we would go further in the Europa League and as a result we would probably only finish in the top ten; the exit at the last 32 stage certainly helped us maintain our position in the top 4 of the Premier League right until the end. I thought getting back into the Champions League was a priority and that the Europa League was a probable route. Home Cup competitions was not a priority although FA Cup was the preferable of the two.
Going into the final weeks of the season what was more important to you, winning the FA Cup or qualifying for the Champions League?
I was asked this several times before and at the FA Cup Final, my answer was “I want both”, I believe you should always go for every opportunity. For all its prestige, and I am ecstatic that we won the FA Cup, the prize money is very small in comparison to the Champions League.
Given how the season panned out, in terms of success how do you rate it out of 10 and why?
“If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor”. What I mean by this, pre 2015/16 this would have been a 10, but since our EPL title and our experience in the Champion League, the bar and ambitions have been raised. Finishing just outside the CL qualification places for the second-year running is a slight blemish. Having said this, and given the injuries we had, it would be churlish to give last season anything less than a 9.
What was your personal highlight of the season?
It has to be The Cup Final and that special goal: I was right behind the goal at Wembley and the ball was in from the moment it left Youri’s boot. Early in the season, the win at the Ethiad was another highlight for me.
Youri Tielemans won the Player of the Year Awards, would he have been your choice and who else do you think deserves praise for their performances?
Youri definitely; I said in last years End-of-Season review in answer to: Which player did you think underperformed the most last season and why? “I think Tielemans, I like him a lot, but he did not exert the influence he had at the end of season 18/19: there is so much more potential with him, hopefully we see it in 20/21”. We did, and in abundance! Almost an ever present, his overall play and consistency were a significant factor in our success, That iconic goal will long live in Cup Final folklore.
Until their injuries I would add James Justin and Harvey Barnes.
What were your views on the signings made during last season?
Timothy Castagne started off well before he was injured, His best performances were certainly on the right and it was unfortunate when he returned that Justin’s injury meant he played more on the left, he looks a quality player. Hopefully his nasty injury playing for Belgium in the Euros will heal before the new season starts.
Wesley Fofana looks a great prospect, at 19 with only a few senior appearances to his name, he was thrown in the deep end as City’s injury list grew. Understandably raw at times, he nonetheless has immense potential.
Cengiz Under was a disappointment, flashes of brilliance but all too often ran into blind alleys when a pass to a better placed team-mate was the easier option – shall always remember him for that cross to Vardy at the Emirates that ended the Arsenal 47 year wait.
Which player do you think made the most progress last season and why?
I am going to say Harvey Barnes although James Justin ran him close, both apparently being looked at by Southgate ahead of the Euros and prior to their injuries. Although Barnes has a lot of talent, I think he lacked aggression in his play in previous seasons. This year I think he worked harder and with it grew in confidence; I would imagine Rodgers was instrumental in this improvement. He was direct in his running and willing to battle, his finishing got back to what he did when on loan at WBA.
Which player did you think underperformed the most last season and why?
James Maddison, undoubtedly his injury has not helped him as he was in good form prior to that. I just think how he was ahead of Grealish in the England pecking order and now seems miles away from the Squad. I was hoping the previous season’s Casino incident was something he would learn from but the episode at the alleged Perez Covid rule breaking party seems he didn’t learn too much. ‘It is always about discipline,’ Rodgers has previously said. ‘To be a winner and to compete at the top end of this table, you have to act like a winner and that winning mentality is a certain level of behaviour and a mindset.’ With imminent parenthood, Maddison may heed those words, settle down and become the amazing player and major asset we all know he can be.
In a season of many injuries, which players injury do you think had the most detrimental effect on our season?
Difficult to answer, Ricardo has not been anything like his old self, Barnes and Maddison I have both spoken about. I am going with James Justin, I thought he was a rock in an everchanging defensive configuration and the several positions he had to play. He really came on after a somewhat hesitant start defensively, his goal at Fulham underlined his attacking qualities. I think his versatility helped us through our defensive injury woes and we never consistently looked quite as solid without him.
VAR – with our view via our armchair for nearly all the games, how do you feel about its effectiveness last season and what would you change?
Well, it is better watching VAR on TV as you know immediately when there is a referral, you also see the incident replayed and, for off-side, the lines drawn.
I think the on-field referee being referred to the VAR monitor is an improvement for decisions other than off-side as I believe the referee should make the ultimate decision.
I still think that the handball rule is the biggest problem but that is not a VAR issue, I understand that the rule is being changed again next season.
VAR is here to stay and we can only hope it continues to improve in speed and consistency in decisions but in its present format it will always require subjective opinions for handball, penalties, red card decisions.
One note: I was disappointed that the Chilwell goal in the Cup Final was deemed as Leicester being lucky, it was offside, full stop. Like the millimetre off-side decisions or not, it is the one decision with VAR that is objective.
Moving onto next season
If you had to choose one position where we needed to strengthen, what would it be?
Squads always evolve, so there are several positions.
I think a creative midfielder or winger is most important as we suffered without Barnes and Maddison. I think the other injured players we generally have cover for.
What other changes do you think are necessary to improve on this year’s squad?
The squad evolution should include a new striker as Jamie Vardy cannot go on forever and his goal tally beyond penalties was not as good as previous seasons. Iheanacho was brilliant at the end of the season but can he repeat over a full season? Left back is important in the short term until Justin returns and Luke Thomas gains more experience. Centre back cover is crucial if we continue to play a back three, all our centre backs have had long term injuries this season and I think Ndidi playing as cover in that position is detrimental to the midfield.
Would you be looking to add some experience to a fairly youthful squad or would you continue bringing in younger players and develop them?
There is so much young talent coming through, Tavares, Dewsbury-Hall (Luton’s POTY), Flynn, Wright (who scored goals at Cheltenham), and Sowah who returns to City from OH Leuven. I think any incoming players will be young but with plenty of senior games under their belt: the possible exception being the left back where the need is temporary.
It looks like we are in the driving seat for Boubakary Soumaré and have signed Patson Daka, both young yet with plenty of gametime; I think young talent City can buy at sensible prices and then develop into top players is the way forward and template for City. With Kasper, Jamie and Wes (retired) at the latter stages of their careers, I think it important that the next generation of leaders starts to emerge.
If you had a chance for a word in the owner’s ears, which player(s) would you be advising to sign?
Matheus Pereira from WBA, 11 goals and 6 assists in a relegated team was impressive and he proved he can perform in the EPL. A left footed winger/midfielder, a 24-year-old Brazilian – just what the doctor ordered.
What are your expectations and fears for next season?
We are the fifth best team in the EPL, beaten to the top four by the same four teams in each of the last two seasons. I think injuries permitting we can break into the top four, although with the caveat that progress to the later stages of the Europa League may be detrimental to that. I believe we will win The Community Shield in August.
Any other observation you would like to make
I have criticised Brendan Rodgers previously on his tactics, Bournemouth away 2019/20 long lives in the memory. This season I believe he came of age as well, The Cup Final and Manchester City and Leeds away matches in particular where his tactics were spot on. The way he managed depleted squads was excellent, the likes of Arsenal away (when his timing of bringing on Vardy) was typical of many. He rightly dropped Maddison and Perez at WHU which was a major example of his management prowess and strength.
I have some concern about the number of non-contact injuries that City players seem to get, If I recall correctly, Ricardo, Justin, Barnes, Soyuncu, Ndidi, Castange, Praet and Fofana all suffered with long term injuries. All non-contact and all to ligaments, hamstrings etc. Too, many to be coincidental. Add to that Vardy, Evans and Maddison with other non-contact injuries and it’s quite a list. No doubt the Sports Scientists at the Club will be analysing why this happens.
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation