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Manuel Pellegrini's Timid Tactics Doom Manchester City in Roberto Mancini Style

We're all with you on this one, David.
We're all with you on this one, David.Clint Hughes/Associated Press
Phil KeidelContributor IIFebruary 18, 2014

If you did not know any better, watching Manchester City play scared and ineffective football in Champions League play against Barcelona at the Etihad en route to a 2-0 loss could make you think Roberto Mancini still manages City.

Manuel Pellegrini's teamsheet on Tuesday was a decidedly not subtle admission that he would be very happy to play Lionel Messi and his side to a draw and take a puncher's chance to Camp Nou on March 12—by which time star striker Sergio Aguero would presumably be back in the XI.

Pellegrini packed his midfield with five players and granted only Jesus Navas and David Silva (neither of whom can defend anyone anyway) leave to pick out stranded striker Alvaro Negredo at the tip of the dulled spear.

In fairness, it almost worked. Kind of.

Though Barcelona had most of the possession in the first half, City had by far the best chances including a goalmouth scramble in the 25th minute that very nearly gave the Sky Blues the first goal.

Taking a lead to the interval would have done City immeasurable good. Instead, City came out of the break still deadlocked and still too vulnerable to Barcelona's scything passing game and superior speed.

You know the rest.

Hindsight is what it is, of course. But in my case it was not exactly hindsight.

My projected City XI was an attacking XI. Why?

Because City's 2013-14 squad is not built for Mancini's preferred catenaccio style. Which, incidentally, tended not to work at this highest level anyway.

Or did Pellegrini forget how Mancini's timid, mincing sides were pushed around in the group stage of last season's Champions League play, even when they did deploy two strikers?

By this time, City's defense was beyond exhausted and more than vulnerable.
By this time, City's defense was beyond exhausted and more than vulnerable.Jon Super/Associated Press

City fans have seen this movie before and thus cannot possibly be all that surprised at how the hero died in the closing reels.

Pellegrini came to Manchester promising that things would be different with him than they were with Mancini. "I am sure (the supporters) will enjoy the way our team will play. We will play an attractive, offensive play," Pellegrini said last June, according to Sky Sports.

Tell me: Watching City possess the ball 32 percent of the time (!), were you entertained?

Pellegrini started Negredo alone with Silva, Navas and Aleksandar Kolarov lobbing crosses into Negredo as if City were David Moyes' Manchester United.

Maybe my suggestion that Pellegrini go with two strikers and an uptempo midfield (Nasri instead of Kolarov) would have given Barcelona too many gaps to exploit. Maybe Messi would have bagged a hat trick instead of just the one goal.

But the one goal Messi scored might as well have counted for two. Messi's penalty kick and the red card given to Martin Demichelis on the play put City permanently in panic stations.

Not surprisingly, Barcelona's final goal came against a gassed City side that had been down a man for half an hour, chasing the ball like it was a ghost.

No, in this space, it is my prerogative to say that City should have run with Barcelona and tried to press the advantage of the home pitch and the chance to draw blood first. City could have lost such a match 5-3.

They could well have won it 5-3, too.

Instead, Pellegrini and City ran away from Barcelona, with predictable consequences.

We are sure that was Pellegrini managing City and not Mancini, right?

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