5 Areas Manuel Pellegrini Must Succeed in to Keep Manchester City Job
After about a month of speculation, former Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini has officially been named the next Manchester City manager. After Roberto Mancini's sacking, the Chilean tinkerer was firmly installed as the clear choice for the job.
The former Villarreal and Real Madrid boss will have a lot of work to do if he is to turn City around from a poor 2012/13 season. A meekly-surrendered title, a shambolic Champions League display and a disheartening FA Cup final loss to Wigan only begin to tell the story.
Pellegrini has shown he can make something out of nothing, taking Villarreal to the Champions League semifinals and a second-place La Liga finish. He also pulled financially hurting Malaga to within seconds of the same European landmark.
Of course, he has also shown he can work with a big club, taking Real Madrid to its then-highest Liga points total of 96 in his one season at the helm. He was unfortunate to run into Pep Guardiola's world-beating juggernaut that season, and was promptly shown the door.
After three strong seasons in Andalusia, Pellegrini has a vast challenge ahead of him at Eastlands. If he is to avoid the same fate as he suffered at the Bernabeu, here are a few areas that he must succeed in.
One of Mancini's biggest shortcomings in his final season at the helm was the poor set of signings he made. Matija Nastasic was the lone bright spot from a group that also included Maicon, Javi Garcia and Scott Sinclair.
This year, though, City officials have already made Pellegrini a happy man with the signings of big name players in Jesus Navas and Fernandinho. These are two players sure to be included in the starting lineup on a frequent basis based on their skill sets and City's needs.
Of course, the work is not yet done. Other areas such as depth in central defense, a left-sided complement to Navas and perhaps a striker, will need to be addressed. And Pellegrini has shown good eyes for transfers in the past.
At Malaga, he utilized the club's new riches to bring in players like Santi Cazorla, Jeremy Toulalan, Joaquin, Martin Demichelis and Isco. While Cazorla has since moved on to Arsenal due to financial issues, all four have played key roles for the squad in the last two years.
Isco could wind up being Pellegrini's next recruit to the Etihad, as the player is keen to continue working with the Chilean despite Real Madrid's interest. And the veteran manager would do well to make sure this deal gets clinched.
Pellegrini also oversaw the beginning of Madrid's second "Galacticos" era, though he claimed to have very little say in matters. The club brought in the likes of Kaka, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, yet failed to win a trophy.
While City do boast considerable spending power like Madrid owner Florentino Perez, they have shown in their two signings thus far to be very considerate to Pellegrini's style. If the Chilean can pick up a couple more pieces, he could be in for long-term success.
A well-publicized part of Mancini's downfall at City was his inability to do anything significant in Champions League play. He had never advanced past the quarterfinals of the competition in his previous appointments, and took that to a new low with City.
In two attempts, he failed to escape the group stage both times. A tough group the first time saw City bounced with a strong 10 points, with Bayern Munich and Napoli going through. Last year, though, saw just three home draws yielding points against Ajax, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund, of course, would go on to topple both Malaga and Madrid en route to a narrow defeat in the final to domestic rivals Bayern. Madrid made the semifinals by taking out the likes of Manchester United and Galatasaray, and Ajax are not a team to take lightly.
Still, though, it was a terrible showing and a huge black mark on Mancini's already spotty European record. Pellegrini comes in with a good record in the competition, having taken three teams through the group stages.
As mentioned before, he took Villarreal to the semifinals in 2005/06, where they fell just short against Arsenal. He would take them back to the quarterfinals three seasons later, again losing out to the Gunners.
His one year at Real Madrid saw the club ousted in the Round of 16 at the hand of eventual semifinalists Lyon. And just last season he took Malaga to the top of the world in their Champions League debut, winning their group and toppling Porto before the heartbreaking loss to Dortmund.
The one thing this new City has yet to experience is European success. Pellegrini has the pedigree and the squad to get the job done. Now he has to do it.
One of the more disappointing aspects of Mancini's reign was the limited time he afforded players plying their trades with the Elite Development Squad. Players like John Guidetti, Denis Suarez and Abdul Razak have all featured sparingly for City's first team since joining the club.
Guidetti's situation in particular is bemusing. After an unbelievable loan spell at Feyenoord, in which he notched 20 league goals in 23 appearances, he returned to City with bags of confidence. However, nothing would come from it.
Unfortunately, injury took away most of his most recent campaign with EDS, but he returned strong near the end of the season. With Mario Balotelli now gone and Carlos Tevez reportedly nearing the exit door, this would leave just Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko as striking options.
While City is certainly still on the lookout for a top man up top—with Edinson Cavani still the primary reported target—Guidetti should be able to stake a claim to a spot. His skill set is undeniable, and he is surely itching to get first-team action as he did in Holland.
Pellegrini must first fight off interest from the likes of Doncaster Rovers and Sunderland, both of whom hope to take the Swede on loan. Should he do so, it would be a good indicator that he believes in developing the future of this club, not just shoring up the present.
Club executives Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano have a history with FC Barcelona, a club now renowned for turning youth talents into world-class players. With City's development process ongoing, bringing young players into the first team is the next step.
Plus, Pellegrini would be wise to involve youth players more often in his squads. With four competitions to deal with in a given year for a top English club, rotation is immensely important. The League Cup does certainly lend itself to youth players, but going beyond that may be needed.
Pellegrini has been dubbed "The Engineer," given that he studied the subject during his playing days in Chile. Such an education shows in the way he manages his teams; he is able to adjust his team's formation based on what's needed.
Mancini's tactics were mostly the same throughout his tenure, sticking with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2. Often times, a two-striker formation would involve one of the strikers playing almost "in the hole." The main problem with City's interpretation of the formation is that it is very narrow.
With two strikers up the middle, adding more central players like David Silva and Samir Nasri compresses everything. With Yaya Toure often wanting to bomb forward from midfield, having too many men in one area prevents things from getting done.
Mancini brought in a prototypical winger in Scott Sinclair, but the former Swansea man was quickly frozen out of the squad. Adam Johnson, despite his overall lack of playing time, would have also been a great asset out wide. James Milner is the only one to regularly fill a wide midfield role.
Another down point in Mancini's tactical notebook was his experimentation with a 3-5-2 formation. He had tested the formation in preseason with mixed results, but its use came to the forefront in the Champions League against Ajax.
He switched from his usual setup to the three-man backline mid-match to protect the lead, a change that backfired immensely as they fell to a 3-1 defeat. Defender Micah Richards hit out at the change, as it all but confirmed City's Champions League exit.
At Malaga, Pellegrini utilized wide players like Joaquin, Eliseu and even Isco, who also played centrally. He already has Navas in tow, and if he were to bring Isco with him, a midfield three of Isco-Silva-Navas would have width, fluidity and plenty of danger to assist the likes of Aguero and Dzeko.
Plus, with added wide play the opposing defensive ranks will be more spread out, allowing Toure and Fernandinho to boss the middle of the park. Add overlapping runs from Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy, and you've got a dynamic, hard-to-contain system.
Regain and Keep the League Title
City's disappointing season was marked by an 11-point gap between them and champions and rivals Manchester United. Incidentally, United had the same record—28 wins, 5 draws, 5 losses—as the two had in their down-to-the-wire battle in 2011-12.
City started the season on a 15-match unbeaten run, but drew six of those matches to prevent them from taking hold of the league. The December loss to United coupled with the embarrassing Champions League exit set the season on a downward spiral from there.
Having new players and a new manager ought to bring in a new mindset to get the season off to another good start. It's maintaining the good start that needs to be a priority. Should they suffer a tough loss as they did last year, they must be able to bounce back immediately.
Even the club's title run two seasons ago required a comeback from eight points down with six matches to play. They got some help with negative results from United, and drew level—ahead on goal difference—by beating their neighbors in an April derby.
Balancing four competitions at once can be a bit of an ask. Champions League play can leave teams with three matches in eight days at times, meaning squad rotation is a must, as discussed earlier. Without it, players could be burnt out at the end of the year.
Pellegrini's objectives are clear, as expressed by club chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak—win every competition City enters. While this may not happen, winning the Premier League title is a must. It is expected that a team of this caliber should be in the running for the title every single year.
As long as Pellegrini has this side on top of the table, his job is safe.