Manchester City's FA Cup campaign was abruptly ended on Saturday (January 24th) with a shock defeat to Championship side Middlesbrough.
Despite fielding a side which boasted such talents as Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva, the Premier League champions were thoroughly outplayed by the Teessiders. Goals from Patrick Bamford and substitute Kike gave the Championship's high flyers a 2-0 lead, much to the delight of their 5,500 travelling fans.
The inquest now begins for manager Manuel Pellegrini who defended City's five-day warm-weather training trip to Abu Dhabi in the week before the game. City only arrived back in Manchester on Friday evening and they looked to fade in the second half while Middlesbrough were vibrant and took full advantage.
Speaking after the match, Pellegrini refused to blame the trip to the United Arab Emirates as a factor in his side's defeat. When asked about whether it was wise to take the team on such a long trip in the build-up to an important match in the FA Cup, Pellegrini defended the decision.
"I don't think so, I don't agree but you can have your opinion. I have a different opinion. We had six or seven clear chances to score at the beginning. I think there are a lot of football reasons rather than Abu Dhabi. They are different things," the Chilean said.
The warning signs were there early on for City as Middlesbrough arrived at the Etihad Stadium full of confidence. Striker Lee Tomlin had a goal ruled out for offside but it was City that started the brighter, peppering the visitors goal in a period of intense pressure. Goalkeeper Tomas Mejias, in for the rested Dimi Konstantopoulos, had to be called upon throughout the half, making six excellent saves.
Middlesbrough rode the storm and returned in the second half and took the lead when a slack back pass from Fernando let in Albert Adomah. The striker tackled City keeper Willy Caballero and as the Brazilian attempted to make amends for the error, he cannoned the clearance off the on-rushing Bamford who made it 1-0 to the visitors.
The Teessiders were desperately unlucky not to go 2-0 ahead when a superb turn and shot hit from Tomlin hit the inside of the post and away to safety. Substitute Frank Lampard saw a deflected shot come back off the woodwork but Middlesbrough secured the win in the final moments when Kike fired a low shot past Caballero.
City must now regroup for a top of the table clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. The Blues were also subject of an FA Cup shock, beaten 4-2 by League One side Bradford City at home.
Manchester City are looking to go 15 games unbeaten in all competitions as they welcome Arsenal to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday (January 18th).
Manuel Pellegrini's men have not lost since November 5th when their Champions League future seemed to be in jeopardy when CSKA Moscow left Eastlands with a 2-1 victory. Since then however it has been a dramatic turnaround as the Premier League champions closed the gap on leaders Chelsea to two points and qualified for the Champions League knockout phase.
The run has culminated in a nine-game winning streak that placed City within striking distance of the summit of the Premier League. However, disappointing draws at home to Burnley and away to Everton has meant Chelsea have been able to retain a gap between themselves and the chasing pack.
Sunday sees City welcome Arsenal to the Etihad and Arsene Wenger's men will pose a stern test of the champions' mettle. Pellegrini, recently named as Manager of the Month for December, will be without the services of Yaya Toure and new signing Wilfried Bony who are both on international duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations.
Bony's signing was confirmed earlier in the week with City paying £28 million for the Swansea forward, who was the Premier League's top goalscorer in 2014. The purchase of the Ivorian relieves some of the pressure on City's strikeforce of Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic.
Pellegrini was given a boost when both Jovetic and Aguero played a part in the draw at Goodison Park following lengthy spells on the sidelines. City will also be able to welcome back Dzeko this weekend who has been deemed fit again. Injuries to the front three had prompted Pellegrini to play midfielder James Milner in an unorthodox false nine position and will have no doubt been a factor in the Bony transfer.
Opponents have been in relatively good form of late. Wenger's side cemented fifth place in the Premier League last weekend with a convincing 3-0 over Stoke City. It was the perfect tonic for the Frenchman who had been critical of his side and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after the defeat to Southampton on New Year's Day.
In Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal have a player in scintillating form. The Chilean has already racked up 18 goals so far this season and underlined his worth to the team by scoring twice against Stoke. Wenger will be without defender Mathieu Debuchy and midfielder Mikel Arteta who have both been ruled out for three months.
City remain unbeaten at the Etihad since 2010 when the Gunners came away with a 3-0 victory.
Manchester City could be without midfielder Yaya Toure for up to five games as he jets out to Equatorial Guinea for the start of the African Cup of Nations.
The talismanic Toure was missing from City's 1-1 draw at Everton as the Ivory Coast prepare for their opening game of the tournament against Guinea on January 20th. The draw at Goodison Park meant the Premier League champions slipped two points behind leaders Chelsea, who beat Newcastle 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
In what was a tight game, Fernandinho had looked to give City all three points when he put them ahead with a scrambled goal with 16 minutes remaining. However, Everton rallied and were back on level terms in just four minutes when Steven Naismith beat Joe Hart to a Leighton Baines cross to equalise for the home side.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini may look back on this as a missed opportunity to keep pressure on Chelsea. He will also be wary that Toure is set to miss some crucial games at home to Arsenal and away to the league leaders. The Ivorian will also sit out the FA Cup fourth round tie against Middlesbrough.
Should Ivory Coast reach the final in Bata on February 8th, the earliest Toure can return to City action would be the away game at Stoke on February 11th. However, the more likely return date would be a potential FA Cup fifth round tie on February 14th, 15th or 16th, should City beat Middlesbrough. Failing that, the home game against on February 21st against Newcastle would see the Ivorian's return.
It is not just Toure City could be without when the African Cup of Nations kicks off on January 17th. Wilfried Bony has also been named in the Ivory Coast squad alongside Toure and the Swansea City player is currently subject of a transfer bid from City.
Both the champions and Swansea announced that they had agreed a fee of £28 million for the striker who joined the Welsh club for a record £12 million from Vitesse Arnhem in 2013. Bony was the Premier League's top scorer in 2014 with 20 goals.
The clubs are hoping for the deal to be concluded in the next 48 hours with City not expecting any hitches in both personals terms and medical despite Bony being on international duty. The transfer aims to tackle City's injury problems upfront with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic being sidelined in recent weeks.
Manchester City will welcome Championship side Middlesbrough to the Etihad Stadium in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The Sky Blues were given a scare in their third round tie against another second tier side in Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday (January 4th). The two teams had met in the Capital One Cup earlier in the season where the Premier League champions ran out emphatic 7-0 winners but the FA Cup meeting was a much more tense affair.
Wednesday arrived at the Etihad with nothing to lose and, backed by a huge travelling support from the Steel City, took a surprise lead after 14 minutes. Striker Stevie May attacked down the right hand side and played in Atdhe Nuhiu who swept home to the delight of the contingent from Sheffield.
City looked rattled and it was not until the 66th minute that they managed to get back on terms. Leeds-born James Milner celebrated his 29th birthday by scoring the equaliser and the birthday boy popped up again to break Wednesday hearts. The England midfielder nipped in front of his marker to tap home a Jesus Navas cross to huge relief inside the Etihad.
It will be Championship opposition that will pose the next test for Manuel Pellegrini's men after Middlesbrough secured their passage into the fourth round with a 2-0 win away at League One Barnsley. Goals from Jelle Vossen and a late Daniel Ayala strike sent the Teessiders through and Aitor Karanka's side have been in impressive form this season.
Boro currently sit in fourth position in the Championship, five points off leaders Bournemouth. Prior to a 2-0 away defeat at Ipswich on December, the Teessiders had embarked on an eight-match unbeaten run, which had seen them reach the summit of the league. They will be pushing hard for a return to the Premier League where they have not featured since relegation in 2009.
The two sides last met in a third round FA Cup tie in January 2010 when a single goal from Benjani gave Roberto Mancini's Man City a 1-0 win at the Riverside Stadium. City have had the upperhand against their north-east opponents in recent meetings.
However, Boro fans will always have fond memories of City following an 8-1 thrashing they dished out to a Sven Goran Eriksson City side on the final day of the 2007/8 season. A hat-trick from Afonso Alves and two goals from Stewart Downing gave Boro the victory.
As the 2014 comes to a close it is time for reflection and the past 12 months have provided some memorable moments.
In Brazil, a goal from Bayern Munich's Mario Gotze gave Germany their fourth World Cup title, beating Argentina in Rio de Janeiro. Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton won his second Formula One World Championship after a long-running tussle with teammate Nico Rosberg. Manchester City claimed the Premier League title while in Scotland Celtic won the Scottish Premier League once again.
Ireland's rugby team delivered a Six Nations triumph for the outgoing Brian O'Driscoll while a French horse by the name of Pineau de Re won the 2014 Crabbie's Grand National. It was not all positive as England's cricket team endured a thoroughly disappointing year ending with Alastair Cook being replaced as captain.
Here is a look back at the year for our featured sports.
Manchester City: Premier League champions (again)
2014 marked the year where Manchester City returned to the summit as the conquerers of English football. Knocked off their perch by neighbours Manchester United a year earlier, Manuel Pellegrini's men responded in style. Not only was the Premier League won back but City also won the League Cup, beating Sunderland in the final.
The majority of the focus had been placed on Liverpool who were chasing their first league title since 1990. The Reds looked odds on to win the league and were five points clear with three games remaining. However, losses to Chelsea and a draw against Crystal Palace, handed City the initiative which they took gleefully.
Pellegrini's side won the league by two points, losing just six games and scoring a massive 102 goals.
England go close at the Six Nations
England will continue to look back on the 2014 RBS Six Nations and think "what could've been". Stuart Lancaster's side were edged out by ten points to eventual winners Ireland despite claiming the Triple Crown along the way. They will always look back on an opening day capitulation at the Stade de France as the key reason for their loss.
Finding themselves 24-19 ahead with just four minutes remaining, England just had to see the game out. They could not hold on however, as France stormed as a last-minute try from Gael Fickou gave France a 26-24 victory. It was a defeat that England would curse.
It allowed Ireland to steal in. Led by Brian O'Driscoll, playing his final Six Nations for his country, the Irish were able to claim their 12th title which was secured with a 22-20 victory over France in Paris.
English cricket misery
When it comes to cricket it has been a year to forget if you are an England fan. Kicking off with a whitewash defeat in the Ashes to Australia, things have gone from bad to worse. Twenty20 series defeats to the West Indies saw England go into the World Twenty20 in poor form.
Life in Bangladesh was not enjoyable and England exited at the Super 10 stage after an embarrassing defeat to the Netherlands. Things did improve with a Test series win over India but this was quickly eradicated with a hugely disappointing tour of Sri Lanka where they lost 5-2.
With a World Cup on the horizon, match selectors took the decision to relieve captain Alastair Cook of his duties. England can only hope 2015 is not half as bad as 2014.
NFL returns to Wembley
The annual NFL International Series returned to London in September, October and November bigger and better than ever before. The UK truly embraced their US cousins with Wembley being sold out for all three matches.
It all kicked with the Miami Dolphins running out 38-14 winners against the Oakland Raiders. It was a much tighter affair a month later when a last-minute field goal gave the Detroit Lions a 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The final match saw the Dallas Cowboys make light work of the Jacksonville Jaguars with the Texan side winning 31-17.
UK NFL fans were given an extra boost when it was confirmed that three matches would be taking place at Wembley in 2015.
The past 12 months have been yet another vintage year for sport. There have been highs and lows from the very beginning.
Whether it has been Australia romping to an Ashes whitewash or Germany securing a fourth World Cup in Brazil or Lewis Hamilton claiming his second Formula One Driver's World Championship title, we have been on the edge of our seat throughout. So what does 2015 have in store for us?
While there may not be a football World Cup to look forward to this summer there are two major tournaments happening in both cricket and rugby in 2015. In February, the ICC Cricket World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand while in September the Rugby World Cup comes to England.
In between all this is the Six Nations, Formula One Championship, Wimbledon and, of course, the conclusion to the 2014/15 Premier League season.
Here is our preview to the next 12 months in sport.
Can Man City win another title?
In English football, 2014 was all about Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini's side managed to not only win a second Premier League title but also win the League Cup in a highly successful 2013/14 campaign. They find themselves in fine fettle once again heading into the new year on the back of nine wins in their last ten games in all competitions.
The Premier League will prove a tough nut to crack once again, with Jose Mourinho's Chelsea currently leading the way. They are also through to the knockout phases of the Champions League where they will be eager to get revenge on last-16 opponents Barcelona who knocked them out at the same stage last season.
They also face Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup third round and a victory could be them on course for another successful cup run. Fighting on three fronts will no doubt be challenging but one that City are more than capable of tackling and will be relishing more gold.
NFL back at Wembley
A firm favourite with UK sports fans is returning for another year. The NFL International Series will once again be held at Wembley in 2015 following on from the huge success of 2014. Three matches will take place in London throughout October and early November and every game is expected to be a sell out as the NFL once again strikes chord with the UK.
Next year will see the New York Jets take on the Miami Dolphins, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be returning to face the Buffalo Bills while the Detroit Lions square up against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rugby World Cup
After the furore of the 2015 RBS Six Nations, where Ireland will be looking to retain their crown against England, Wales, France, Scotland and Italy, all attention in rugby will turn to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Hosted by England, all the very best in the world of rugby will come together for six weeks of high class sport.
Reigning champions New Zealand will be looking to become the first ever side to regain the Webb Ellis Cup. For England it is a chance to rekindle the spirit of 2003, and to a lesser extent 2007, and put on a show for a raucous home crowd. The likes of Wales will also be keen to impress with some of the matches being held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The first match kicks off between England and Fiji at Twickenham on September 18th with the final being at the same ground on October 31st.
ICC Cricket World Cup
The 2015 Rugby World Cup is not the only major tournament taking place throughout the year as the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup starts in Australia and New Zealand in February. For England's cricket team it provides the perfect opportunity to put what has been a dreadful past 12 months behind them and register a solid performance at the World Cup.
Current champions India will be looking to claim their third title after ending Australia's dominance in 2011. The Aussies will no doubt want to regain the trophy they won in three consecutive tournaments especially in front of a vocal home crowd.
The first match will see hosts New Zealand take on Sri Lanka at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch on February 14th. England kick off their campaign on the same day at Melbourne Cricket Ground against Australia.
The final will also be held in Melbourne on March 29th.
The past year will be one that everyone associated with Manchester City will look back on with fond.
It was a year which the Sky Blues reclaim the Premier League title following a long battle with Liverpool while also winning their first League Cup since 1976. However, going into 2015 they trail top-of-the-table Chelsea by three points and missed a glorious chance to close the gap on Sunday (December 28th).
With Jose Mourinho's men drawing 1-1 with Southampton earlier in the day, City could have reduced the points deficit to just one with a win over relegation-threatened Burnley at the Etihad Stadium. Despite missing key players such as Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure, City put themselves 2-0 ahead before half time.
However, a second half rally from the visitors saw them fight back and the home side managed to squander a commanding lead when George Boyd and then Ashley Barnes turned the game on its head. City were unable to find a winning goal with ten minutes remaining drawing 2-2, spurning a chance to ramp up the pressure on Chelsea.
City now need to right the wrongs from the Burnley match and take full advantage of a home game against another of the Premier League's lower half teams - Sunderland. Despite the game looking like a formality on paper, City have come unstuck against the Black Cats on a number of occasions in recent years.
Sunderland were within a whisker of claiming all three points at the Etihad last year and potentially derailing City's title challenge. Only a late, late goal from Samir Nasri was able to salvage a point in a 2-2 draw in mid-April. City finally broke their hoodoo at the Stadium of Light in December winning 4-1, ending a run of four consecutive 1-0 defeats on Wearside.
Gus Poyet's men have endured a mixed season so far, typified by their Christmas run. After beating rivals Newcastle United on December 21st, they wilted at home to Hull City losing 3-1 before failing to capitalise on a ten-man Aston Villa side drawing 0-0 at Villa Park. While they may lie in 14th place, the Black Cats have become extremely hard to beat away from home.
The Wearsiders have not lost on the road since an 8-0 capitulation away at Southampton in October. Since then they have won two and drawn three on their travels, only conceding one goal in the process. City will have to be on top form to break down what will no doubt be a well organised and stubborn Sunderland resistance.
Former City midfielder Jack Rodwell is expected to line-up for Sunderland on New Year's Day while Manuel Pellegrini will be hoping to have both Toure and Kompany fit again to face the north-east side.
A win is imperative for City who face a difficult end to January with trips to Everton and leaders Chelsea either side of a home game against Arsenal. They are also in FA Cup action on Sunday (January 4th) when Sheffield Wednesday visit the Etihad.
It has been a memorable 2014 for Manchester City.
In March they collected their first League Cup since 1976 beating Sunderland in the final 3-1, and two months later they were lifting their second Premier League title after pipping Liverpool on the final day. The 2014/15 season has started in a similar vein with City currently second in the league behind leaders Chelsea, and while they may be out of this year's League Cup, they are through to the knockout phase of the Champions League.
As the season enters the busy festive period, City have picked up form. Saturday's (December 20th) victory over Crystal Palace was the Sky Blues' eighth in a row in all competitions. With games against West Bromwich Albion, Burnley and Sunderland to come, manager Manuel Pellegrini will be looking to close the gap, and even overtake Chelsea.
So what challenges lie ahead for City in the coming year? Here is our guide.
Overcoming the Barcelona hoodoo
City's qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League was nothing short of miraculous. Despite looking dead and buried with two games remaining, a hugely impressive win over Bayern Munich gave them a chance. A make or break match against Roma in the Stadio Olimpico was won and set up a last 16 meeting with Barcelona.
It was the Catalan giants who knocked City out at the same stage last season and Pellegrini needs to overcome that hoodoo if they are to progress. City have never reached the quarter finals of the Champions League and will have to beat the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta and not forgetting Luis Suarez to get there.
Striker Sergio Aguero will be fit for the February showdown and will have a huge say in City's success.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea have been in imperious form so far this season. The Blues sit three points clear at the top of the Premier League heading into the Christmas and New Year period. They have only lost once so far this season and were a matter of minutes away from winning at the Etihad Stadium in September before Frank Lampard equalised.
One of Pellegrini's main challenges will be catching the West London side. Despite a blip in October, City have remained hanging onto the coattails of Chelsea. With games against teams in the bottom half of the league, Pellegrini will be looking to gain ground on the Blues.
The two teams meet at Stamford Bridge on January 31st, the end of a difficult run for Chelsea. Prior to the match against City, the leaders face away trips to Southampton and Tottenham before a testing two-legged League Cup semi final against Liverpool. Winning at Stamford Bridge could be key if City are to overhaul Mourinho's dominant side.
Continuing cup tradition
City have enjoyed somewhat of a purple patch when it has come to domestic cup competitions in recent years. Since Roberto Mancini guided the side to win the FA Cup in the 2011, the cups have been a major coup for City fans. Last year saw them lift the League Cup at the expense of a spirited Sunderland side.
That result helped banish some of the memories of losing to Wigan Athletic in the 2013 FA Cup final. Supporters will no doubt relish another trip to Wembley and following a disappointing defence of this League Cup, knocked out by Newcastle United in the fourth round, all eyes will be on the FA Cup.
City have been drawn against Championship side Sheffield Wednesday at the Etihad in the third round of the world's oldest cup competition. The two teams have already met this season, City winning 7-0 in the third round of the League Cup. A similar result in the FA Cup would be much appreciated
City's 3-0 win over Crystal Palace would seem routine on the face of it but it was far from that. The club are currently going through a striking crisis. On Saturday, Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic were all out injured meaning midfielder James Milner was put in an unorthodox false nine position for the visit of Neil Warnock's men.
With some crucial games coming up and key striking options sidelined for a lengthy period, Pellegrini may be forced to open the chequebook and sign a replacement.
It's all smiles at the Etihad Stadium again as Manchester City chase their fifth straight win in all competitions as they welcome Everton on Saturday (December 6th) evening.
Since the shock defeat against CSKA Moscow in early November, Manuel Pellegrini's men have rallied winning five of the last six. They are unbeaten in the league since October 25th and have been galvanised by a pulsating victory over Bayern Munich to give them hope of qualification to the Champions League knock-out stages.
A lot of City's recent revival has been down to the prowess and clinical finishing of striker Sergio Aguero. The Argentinian has been seemingly unstoppable in recent weeks scoring seven goals in his last six games, including a hat-trick against Bayern. Aguero was once again in an inspired mood on Wednesday (December 3rd) night when City finally broke their hoodoo at Sunderland.
Gus Poyet's men had beaten City at the Stadium of Light 1-0 for the past four seasons and looked to be doing it again when Connor Wickham put them ahead. However, City hit back immediately with an absolute rocket from Aguero. From then on it was one way traffic with Stevan Jovetic putting the visitors 2-1 ahead just before the break.
Goals from Pablo Zabaleta and another from Aguero gave City a comfortable 4-1 win. The manner of the performance and the clinical finishing from Aguero fired a warning to leaders Chelsea.
City face a tough challenge at the weekend as they welcome Everton to the Etihad. The Toffees always pose a tough ask to any title challenger and will once again prove a stern test of City's mettle. Pellegrini will be wary that some players may have one eye on the Champions League showdown with Roma on Wednesday (December 10th) evening but they can not afford a slip in the Premier League.
The Sky Blues expect to have striker Edin Dzeko back in the squad while David Silva will face a late fitness test. Defenders Aleksander Kolarov and Matija Nastasic are still unavailable while captain Vincent Kompany could also be missing.
City's last encounter with Everton was a highly poignant one for the would-be champions. It was a pivotal day in the 2013/14 title race as City finally edged ahead of challengers Liverpool on goal difference. A frantic May afternoon at Goodison Park saw City having to come from behind to claim a vital 3-2 victory. Goals from Aguero and two from Dzeko sent the Sky Blues back to Manchester with all three points.
A similar result on Saturday would be more than welcome for Pellegrini and the fans.
"How did it come to this?" Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini must be thinking.
City welcome Bayern Munich to the Etihad Stadium this evening (November 25th), with their Champions League lives hanging by a thread. The Sky Blues must beat Bayern and hope that neither Roma or CSKA Moscow win to keep their slender hopes of qualification to the knockout rounds alive.
It has been a thoroughly miserable European campaign for the reigning English champions. From heartbreak in Munich to frustration against Roma to disbelief and bewilderment against CSKA, City stand on the brink of exiting the group stages for the third time in four seasons after collecting just two points so far. The challenge ahead of them could not be any harder.
They face a Bayern side that are unbeaten in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League boasting attacking wealth of Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. A victory over the German champions is a must for City but they could be out before a ball is even kicked in Manchester if there is a winner between either CSKA or Roma in Moscow.
The task has been made even harder as City will be without midfielders Yaya Toure and Fernandinho who were sent off during the home defeat to CSKA. David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Aleksander Kolarov have all been ruled out through injury but Pellegrini will be able to call upon the services of Stevan Jovetic and talisman Sergio Aguero.
City got back to winning ways in the Premier League with a hard fought victory over Swansea City at the weekend but Bayern will prove a much tougher test. The Germans have been imperious in the Bundesliga, sitting seven points clear and having only conceded three goals so far. They continued their dominance with a 4-0 win over TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at the weekend.
Bayern also have fond memories of the Etihad after they completely dominated City at the Etihad during the group stages last season. Goals from Franck Ribery, Muller and Arjen Robben gave Pep Guardiola's side a 3-1 win over their English counterparts. A similar scoreline would be incomprehensible for City.
Guardiola does have injury problems ahead of the trip to Manchester with captain Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Holger Badstuber and Thiago Alcantara all ruled out.
Bayern have won all four of their group games so far and have qualified, topping the group in the process. City fans will be hoping that the Germans the rarest of rare things for them - an off day.