Ten games into Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure at Manchester City and things are beginning to take shape. He seems to be figuring out his best team, and his new tactical approach—a high-tempo pressing game with pace and width—is maturing.
But, how do Pellegrini’s first few weeks compare to those of his two predecessors?
Mark Hughes joined City in the summer of 2008, replacing Sven-Goran Eriksson, the man responsible for revolutionising City’s playing style after the drudgery that defined the Stuart Pearce era. Hughes was seen as the man to take City to the next level, and he was given a big budget and a remit to deliver success.
He made a raft of new signings that summer, spending around £78 million on Jo, Tal Ben-Haim, Vincent Kompany, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Pablo Zabaleta, Glauber Berti and Robinho. Expectations were suddenly extremely high.
However, the start to the season was mixed. Hughes negotiated two straightforward UEFA Cup qualifying rounds against EB Streymur and FC Midtjylland, before squeezing past Omonia Nicosia in the first round, a tie notable only for the fact that Jo scored a brace in the first leg (he only managed three in his entire time in Manchester).
City were knocked out of the League Cup after an embarrassing defeat away at Brighton, losing 5-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw, and in the Premier League, they won just three of their first seven. Defeats to Villa (a), Chelsea (h), Wigan (a) and Liverpool (h) undid much of the good work in beating West Ham (h), Sunderland (a) and Portsmouth (h).
It was a sign of things to come. City were 11th in the table after those games and only managed a 10th place finish, earning just 50 points. It was a dreadful return, especially considering the investment that reached £127 million following the January arrivals of Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, Nigel De Jong and Shay Given.
Roberto Mancini replaced Hughes in December of the following season. City had drawn eight of their first 17 matches, and the board were rightly underwhelmed by Hughes’ performance given the money spent during the Welshman’s time in charge.
Five wins and two draws from Mancini’s first-seven league games in charge saw the initial anger at Hughes’ sacking (from the British media) subside. Having conceded 27 in the first 17 games of the season, City only leaked five in Mancini’s first seven games in charge.
He had quickly rectified some of City’s most obvious failings, and they suddenly looked far more capable of winning matches consistently. Mancini managed just a fifth place finish in his first season, but the improvement in City was clear. That period laid the groundwork for the success that was to come: an FA Cup and Premier League in the next two seasons.
However, a season of regression last time out, which saw City start as strong favourites only to finish 11 points behind rivals Manchester United, ended with Mancini’s sacking.
Which brings us to Pellegrini. He starts from a much stronger base than the previous managers—thanks to the work of Mancini—and has made a decent start. He brought in five new players in the summer and has tried to implement a new playing style. He regularly plays with two strikers and two wingers, with City encouraged to press high up the pitch and play attacking football.
As you would expect, there have been teething problems. Only one point from three away league-fixtures is poor and needs improving immediately, with City embarking on a run of four straight away fixtures starting at West Ham on Saturday evening. However, City sit just three points off the top and the signs are that the players are beginning to adapt to Pellegrini’s methods.
They have won all four of their home games fairly comfortably, including superb performances against Newcastle and Manchester United, and have 13 points on the board.
A Champions League win away at Viktoria Plzen was welcome given City failed to win any of their group games last season, but the defeat at home to Bayern Munich was, of course, crushing. City were completely out-played, and Pellegrini, rather worryingly, seemed reluctant to change the system despite being overrun in midfield.
A comfortable 5-0 League Cup win over Wigan, which saw Pellegrini make 10 changes, means they also remain in a competition ideal for keeping fringe players active.
Pellegrini’s start hasn’t been perfect, but there is a vision and direction at City under the Chilean. He has a clear idea of how he wants his side to play and is steadily getting his message across to his players. Their points total could have been better had they got their act together away from home, but the signs are that City will be competing for the title come May.
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