Man City: Should We Be Getting Worried About Pellegrini?
Last summer at the Etihad was looking like a long one.
An FA Cup Final loss to Wigan, losing our league title in embarrassing fashion to our beloved cross town rivals United, the ousting of Roberto Mancini in circumstances which threatened to alienate many fans... The list goes on.
Then along came Manuel Pellegrini and things started looking up. The new signings were astute, addressed the obvious weak spots in the team, and were done quickly for good prices. Where Mancini had so egregiously and holistically splintered the club behind the scenes by making everyone from the Board of Directors to Moonchester hate his guts, Pellegrini looked to be a calming influence more interested in uniting people than arbitrarily dividing them.
And lo, so it came to pass, that this positive mindset and reinvigorated squad took the Premier League by storm, playing some of the best football ever seen and dominating games in style. Aguero and Negredo looked like the best strike partnership in the world, for a while. Toure and Fernandinho overpowered all comers.
And yet now, doubts about Pellegrini can be heard coming from many places, both within the City fandom and without. Words like “bottler” are being thrown around. The complaints tend to come in two forms;
Firstly, that he takes the smaller teams (no offence intended) a bit too lightly, especially away from home. Thumping home wins over Tottenham, Man United, Arsenal, Norwich and the rest were matched by embarrassing losses away to Aston Villa, Cardiff among other such unsatisfactory results. Pellegrini gave the impression of being surprised that teams would ‘park the bus’ against City and did not react accordingly. His all too casual approach to these games was seemingly exemplified in the FA Cup against Wigan where he rolled up in a hoodie, a sartorial move which neatly encapsulated the sort of bloodless performance that was inevitably going to arrive that evening.
The second criticism is that Pellegrini appears to approach the biggest, most important games with an underwhelming level of preparation. Both Bayern Munich games, both Barcelona games, home and away against Chelsea in the league, away at Liverpool, home to Sunderland... the list goes on. Pellegrini showed naivety in all of them, either refusing to bend to superior opponents (admirable, yet foolhardy) or ignoring evidence showing exactly what the opposition would do, and then looking surprised when they did it (foolhardy, not admirable). Who didn’t know that Liverpool would come out flying at Anfield? Who didn’t know that Chelsea would come to the Etihad looking to be the spoilers rather than pure entertainers? Well, we all did. Why did Manuel not set up accordingly?
The real question is whether this Pellegrini’s shortcomings are grounds to worry as of yet.
At this point, the answer to that is a firm ‘no’. The above problems are nothing that cannot be fixed. Naivety should naturally be ironed out as Pellegrini’s reign progresses. This is, after all, a man who has achieved admirable Champion’s League results in the past and was only stopped from winning La Liga by the Barcelona team nobody would shut up about for years. Similarly, underestimating low end Premier League opponents simply should not happen again next season. Both the manager and the players will be examining the now most likely failed title challenge and looking not at the losses to Chelsea and Liverpool to explain the shortcomings, but the infantile, indefensible surrenders to teams in and around the relegation places. A bit more tactical flexibility and City would be sitting pretty at the summit.
If the same failings are apparent this time next year then, by all means, start seriously questioning the man, but for now it is not the time to start digging into him. If City want to stand against the immediacy of modern life (thanks for that phrase, Gary Neville) then the money men cannot be firing managers without giving them a fair shake. There are many problems that Pellegrini has not been able to fix, but there are a lot that he has fixed and he deserves another season to further prove his worth. Let’s not forget that this time two years ago people were calling for Mancini’s head and, well, that season didn’t turn out so badly after everything...