Manuel Pellegrini's 11 Best Moves so Far at Manchester City
The first trophy of Manuel Pellegrini's time in charge of Manchester City has been delivered. The League Cup is back in City's grasp after a 38-year absence and the Chilean will be hoping it's the first of many.
However, despite that success, City's season is in danger on unraveling. A glorious December and January period saw the steamroller almost every side put in front of them, but a shock FA Cup exit at the hands of Wigan at the weekend has ended their best hope of a second trophy, and by the end of their match with Barcelona this week they are likely to have been knocked out of the Champions League.
They still remain in the hunt for the Premier League title, although, nine points behind with three games in hand is a daunting situation, especially with Chelsea's ability to pick up wins when not necessarily at their best.
Here, we focus on the positives of Pellegrini's tenure to-date, by analysing his 11 best moves as manager so far.
1. He Made Some Excellent Signings
Working in conjunction with Txiki Begiristain, Pellegrini quickly set about rubber-stamping a series of transfers that drastically altered City's style of play and increased the tactical options available to them.
In came Jesus Navas who offered width and pace to a side bereft of both, a player equally comfortable playing from the start or as an impact substitute. He's been excellent.
As has Fernandinho, who was treated with scepticism before a ball kicked this season thanks to his hefty price tag. However, a series of fine performances have silenced the doubters, and he has arguably been City's best and most consistent player this season.
Despite tailing off in recent weeks, Alvaro Negredo has also been an excellent addition, and only a series of unfortunate injuries have held Stevan Jovetic back. He looks like a very talented young player who, if he can remain fit, will have a big role to play in the years to come.
2. Implementation of a Man-Management Style
There's no doubt that many of the City players were unhappy with Roberto Mancini at the back-end of his final season in charge. His dictatorial management style rubbed players up the wrong way, confidence and general happiness low amongst the squad.
Pellegrini's arm-around-the-shoulder style of management has proven to be the perfect antidote to the Mancini hangover, with the players looking far more contented than they had for many months before, and a happy squad of players has seen an array of impressive performances, characterised by freedom and attacking intent.
3. Switch to 4-2-2-2
It was only a subtle change, but Pellegrini's switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-2-2-2 saw an immediate and drastic change in style.
Suddenly, City were the best attacking side in the league by some considerable distance, battering Newcastle, Manchester United, Norwich, Tottenham (twice) and Arsenal, as well recording a superb win over Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena.
It was a breathtaking change and one the manager deserves great credit for implementing.
4. Sticking to His Principles Despite Early Away Losses
It would have been very easy after early defeats to Villa and Cardiff, as well as the draw at Stoke, for Pellegrini to revert to a more defensive system, particularly away from home. A safer, lower-risk approach would have been understandable, but Pellegrini believed in his philosophy and refused to alter.
And it worked. After the odd teething problem, City suddenly clicked, with a remarkable November and December—the club's best run in recent memory—setting them up nicely for the end of the season.
5. Dropping Hart
The form of Joe Hart earlier in the season was a huge worry. Poor performances against Cardiff, Villa and Chelsea saw City drop vital points that damaged their title challenge, and the media knives were drawn and sharpened.
Pellegrini decided to drop him after the last-minute mix-up at Stamford Bridge saw City gift Chelsea the win after playing well for the majority of the game. Hart wasn’t reinstalled as No. 1 until December, a layoff which allowed him the time to refocus and regain some confidence.
Although he is still yet to return to his 2010-2011 level, Hart has improved considerably, proving Pellegrini absolutely right to drop him when he did.
6. Qualifying from the Champions League Group Stage
After two years of failure to qualify from their Champions League group, City needed to progress this time before it became a psychological issue, and Pellegrini delivered emphatically.
City won five of their six matches, scoring 18 goals in the process, and setting up a wonderful last-16 tie with Barcelona. No longer will qualification be seen as a problem—that monkey is off their back.
7. Returning Nasri to His Very Best
Of all the improvements in the players since Pellegrini's arrival, Samir Nasri's has been the most remarkable. A player so low in confidence last season has been completely rejuvenated and now has a starring role in the side.
His touch and confidence are back, with a vigour to his play that had long been forgotten. He looks capable of beating players every time he picks the ball up, and is now central to City's best attacking moments.
Before the recent trip to Wembley for the Capital One Cup final, where he scored City's second and was awarded the Man of the Match, Nasri told Bleacher Report:
With him [Pellegrini] the confidence is a major factor. Everything has been okay since the first training. We talked together and he told me I could be important again for the team. After that we just talk all the time together, when everything is okay, when something is wrong. And that is what I like about the manager, we can share things and, as well, the way he wants this team to play is what I like. I try to give my best for him.
8. Winning the League Cup
This was just as important for himself as it was the club.
After 38 years without winning the League Cup, City certainly wanted it desperately. A trophyless season the year before increased the importance, and it meant that every piece of domestic silverware has now been delivered during the Mansour era.
However, for Pellegrini himself, this was huge. He hadn't won a major trophy as a manger in Europe, and questions were being asked about his suitability for the role. This answered those questions emphatically at the earliest possible juncture.
9. Squad Rotation
Up until the Wigan fiasco at the weekend, where City lost after making a series of alterations to their side, Pellegrini had rotated admirably.
He's consistently found ways of switching players to ensure they get the right amount of rest, something he will be hoping pays dividends during the final weeks of the season.
It means players who were ostracised under the previous regime, such as Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko, have felt much more involved this season. It's made for a more well-rested, harmonious group of players.
10. Taking Aguero to the Next Level
Sergio Aguero was already a fantastic player who had enriched City's play from the moment he made his debut against Swansea in 2011, but this season, under the guidance of Pellegrini, he's gone up a level.
He is now not just an exceptional young player, he's one of the best forwards in football, with his pressing game and finishing ability marking him out as a real star on the world stage.
He seems to enjoy the freedom and fluidity of Pellegrini's system and his performances have been superb. Two injury layoffs have damaged his season somewhat, but when he's been fit he's been unplayable.
11. He Is in Keeping with the Owners Vision of the Club
Sheikh Mansour, and his assembled board, are keen to implement certain styles and philosophies at City. They want a respectful and respected manager at the helm, one who doesn't damage City's name on the world stage, and a manager who plays an attractive, attacking style of football.
They also want a manager who will work harmoniously in a director of football-style set-up, with Begiristain leading player recruitment.
Pellegrini fits the bill. And that's why, even if City fail to land the title this season, expect the Chilean to be given time to win it next time around.
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