International Break Gives Manuel Pellegrini Opportunity to Fine Tune

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistOctober 8, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Manuel Pellegrini, coach of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and FC Bayern Muenchen at Etihad Stadium on October 2, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

International breaks are an annoyance for some fans. They feel aggrieved that the day-to-day of club football, which for most people is what really matters, gets disrupted in favour of the less exciting spectacle of World Cup qualifying.

This aversion to international football is especially pronounced in England, thanks largely to the dross the national side have regularly served up for the last two decades. Watching them can be a chore, such is the laboured nature of their football.

However, for Manuel Pellegrini, this latest round of internationals is an opportunity to take stock and assess his first 10 games in charge, allowing him to solve some of the issues he faces before preparing his squad for four difficult away matches in three competitions.

And, of course, it’s on the road where City have struggled this season.

One point from trips to Cardiff, Stoke and Villa is a paltry return, and if they want to win the title, their results away from the Etihad must improve. Their 3-0 success in the Champions League against Plzen is their only away win under Pellegrini thus far.

It risks damaging their season, and only an improvement in the trips to West Ham, CSKA Moscow, Chelsea and Newcastle that immediately follow the international matches will see them get the results they need.

There's also a pressing selection issue which Pellegrini needs to figure out. Edin Dzeko has so far been his preferred option to partner Sergio Aguero up front, with the Bosnian managing seven starts to Alvaro Negredo’s four. This is a baffling statistic, given Negredo’s far superior performances and attributes.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Alvaro Negredo of Manchester City celebrates after scoring to level the scores at 1-1 during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at Etihad Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Manchester, Engla
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

At first it seemed fair and diplomatic of Pellegrini to give Dzeko the nod, given he was already established at City and in need of confidence given the deterioration of his relationship with former boss Roberto Mancini. But it’s already quite clear that Negredo is better than Dzeko in every department and should be City’s first-choice No. 9 whenever he’s fit.

His goal after coming on against Bayern Munich and his superb performance against Everton have surely confirmed his status as City’s best partner for Aguero. He is capable of tormenting defenders for 90 minutes; Dzeko simply isn’t, and Pellegrini must begin to pick him consistently.

Ensuring the Fernandinho-Yaya Toure combination functions at its optimum is another imperative for Pellegrini and, after some initial concerns that Toure was being asked to play too deep, the signs are good. The manager seems to have solved the problem by insisting Fernandinho sits and breaks up attacks, something he does with real efficiency, while Toure is given licence to run at the opposition. Many would like to see Toure further forward, but as long as he is given freedom, he can cause untold problems from central midfield.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Manchester City player Yaya Toure (r) holds off Villa player Leandro Bacuna during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Villa Park on September 28, 2013 in Birmingham, England.
Stu Forster/Getty Images

City’s defending also needs some work. Errors at the back have cost them dearly already, and even on Saturday, when they outplayed Everton and deservedly won 3-1, there were still some concerns. Gael Clichy’s form has regressed somewhat, and Joleon Lescott has looked uncomfortable in his appearances, leaving City looking vulnerable. There’s been a lack of cohesion and Pellegrini will be keen to recover Martin Demichelis to provide some much-needed steeliness in defence.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Goalkeeper Joe Hart of Manchester City celebrates with teammate Vincent Kompany of Manchester City after making a save during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at Etihad Stadium on Oct
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Vincent Kompany’s injury, which according to the Manchester Evening News is a thigh strain and not another groin injury, means he is now likely to miss the West Ham and CSKA games, further disrupting the back four. It’s clear for all to see he is City’s best defender by some distance, but their over-reliance on his qualities must be curbed.

It’s been a solid start for Pellegrini, and he appears to be figuring out his best side. With five new players coming in and the implementation of a new, higher-tempo style of play, there were always going to be setbacks early on. The international break has arrived at the perfect time for him to reflect on City’s start to the season, and fine-tune his side ahead of a crucial period.

Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.