Examining Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City Mistakes
It’s early in Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as City boss and it’s fair to say he’s made a solid start.
Despite a couple of frustrating league setbacks against Cardiff and Aston Villa and a Champions League hiding at the hands of Bayern Munich, City sit three points off the top of the Premier League table, with the most goals scored and the best goal difference as well as a decent chance of qualifying from their Champions League group.
Some fans have complained about the “one step forward, two steps back” nature of City’s start. From the dizzying heights of the Newcastle and Manchester United performances came defeats to Cardiff and Aston Villa, but surely that’s to be expected when a new manager brings in new players and attempts to implement a new style of football.
There are, though, a few things that Pellegrini has undoubtedly got wrong.
Not signing a goalkeeper capable of competing with Joe Hart
Many of the issues with Joe Hart’s form stem from his lack of competition, both at the club and international level. Pellegrini, who was presumably aware when he came to the club that Hart had been struggling, should have been open to the idea of signing another goalkeeper to put pressure on City's No. 1.
It didn’t necessarily have to be an expensive one, either. An older, more experienced player, such as Mark Schwarzer or Julio Cesar, would have been perfect. A one-year deal for either would have sufficed and would have provided the right type of competition for a man who hasn’t really had any since he saw off Shay Given after returning from Birmingham in 2010.
Schwarzer left Fulham this summer and joined Chelsea to fulfill a similar role at Stamford Bridge to the one needed at City. Why the Sky Blues didn’t make their interest known is a mystery. Schwarzer is a proven, top-quality Premier League ‘keeper who would have helped Hart, as well as being capable of stepping in if his form continued to decline.
Cesar, incredibly, is still at QPR, despite their relegation and Harry Redknapp’s preference for Rob Green. In a World Cup year—indeed, a World Cup held in Cesar’s home country—he would have taken little convincing to move to City. A ‘keeper of his ability would have fancied his chances of forcing his way past an out-of-sorts Hart and giving himself the best possible chance of being part of Brazil's squad during the summer.
As it is, City are left with just Costel Pantilimon as Hart’s understudy—a man yet to make a Premier League appearance.
Poor tactics against Bayern Munich
No one would really criticise City too much for losing to Bayern Munich; after all, they are arguably the finest club side in the world at present. The manner in which City lost, though, disappointed many.
Pellegrini started with two up front in his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation, leaving Bayern with a spare man in midfield—the area of the pitch the game was essentially won. Philipp Lahm sat deep and played the holding role, leaving Toni Kroos, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and false nine Thomas Muller to run riot. The fluidity of their movement and passing was way too much for City to cope with.
Pellegrini’s reluctance to change it, even though it was clear to almost everyone it wasn’t working, was worrying, given The Engineer’s reputation for tactical flexibility. Much like Manchester United duo Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in the recent derby, City's midfielders were chasing shadows, and there was really only ever going to be one winner.
Ultimately, I feel confident that Pellegrini will turn out to be a shrewd appointment by the City board.
His record throughout his career demonstrates his capability of getting the very best out of what he has to work with. Given time, he usually gets his teams winning and playing attractive, attacking football. Early teething problems, like those outlined above, are par for the course. City fans need to give the Chilean time to stamp his mark on the club and success will almost certainly follow.
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