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As Manchester City brought up 20 games unbeaten in all competitions either side of the New Year, four trophies lay on their horizon, and Manuel Pellegrini was understandably lauded.
Now that the sparklingly panoramic view has faded, in all probability, to the Capital One Cup, it is only right that questions should be asked.
City thrilled the world with a swashbuckling, free-flowing style midway through the season. Early teething problems under Pellegrini were forgotten, and everything clicked gloriously.
But problems arose against teams with a clear plan to stop City having things their own way and the tools to make this a reality.
Chelsea demonstrated supreme tactical organisation in their 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium in February, while Liverpool tore at their title rivals with irresistible verve in the opening stages last weekend.
On both occasions, Pellegrini demonstrated a naive inflexibility to deviate from his chosen path.
Martin Demichelis passes the ball nicely but was a terrible call at the base of the midfield against Chelsea, irrespective of injury problems in the position. At Anfield, James Milner’s intelligent robustness turned the game in City’s favour—if only he had started in place of first-half passengers Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas.
This lack of cold calculation points toward the root of all reservations over Pellegrini: His teams play wonderful football, but he is not a winner.
He could not realistically be expected to pick up stacks of silverware while doing fine jobs at Villarreal and Malaga. But Pellegrini’s season at Real Madrid, examined here by fourfourtwo.com, in 2009/10 is uncomfortably instructive.
Numerous wins were chalked up and records broken, but both games against champions Barcelona were lost, Lyon upstaged Real in the Champions League and lower-league Alcorcon humiliated them in the Copa Del Rey.
This term, City lost twice to Chelsea in league meetings, surrendered an inviting punt at the FA Cup at the hands of Championship team Wigan and passed up countless opportunities to take a firm grip on the title race—the last two away games at Arsenal and Liverpool the latest and most frustrating examples.
Pellegrini’s job should certainly not come under question at this stage. He won the Capital One Cup and deserves the chance to rekindle the magic of December and January. As debut seasons in Premier League management go, his stacks up well.
But City fans should prepare for Pellegrini to align himself with Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, the league’s other great dugout artist. While Wenger’s and Pellegrini’s team paint pretty pictures across the turf, the calculating, pragmatic managers among English football’s elite might be busy picking up league titles.