Manchester City’s season is in danger of collapsing after a defeat to Liverpool and a draw at home to last-placed Sunderland left their hopes of winning the title in the balance. Predictably, many have begun to make comparisons between current boss Manuel Pellegrini and his predecessor Roberto Mancini, with some suggesting that the Italian should have been given more time.
During the first half of the season, when City were beating teams with relative ease, there was little talk of the Italian, who ended City's 35-year wait for a major trophy when he won the 2011 FA Cup, and then delivered the club's first title in 44 years the following season.
Pellegrini had his side playing with a freedom bereft throughout the previous campaign, with City looking the most likely champions.
Their best run of form came between the end of November and the end of January. They went on a 20-match unbeaten run, winning 18, and posting a series of big wins, including the 6-0 hammering of Tottenham and the thrilling 6-3 victory over Arsenal.
The football City produced was marvellous—their best for well over 20 years—with style and substance mixed to devastating effect. Criticism of Pellegrini at that stage would have been churlish, such was the brilliance on show.
However, their title hopes now hang by a thread, and the dissenters, many of whom still harbour a fondness for Mancini, have begun to sing the former boss' praises, suggesting he should have stayed and been given more time to make the club a dominant force, both at home and abroad.
Those who pine for Mancini often ignore the fact that, towards the end of his reign, he was disliked by the majority of his playing staff. Team morale was at a low ebb, and sources close to the club suggest the atmosphere was toxic and unworkable.
That was evident on the pitch, too, with a string of disjointed, gutless performances undoing much of the good work that had gone into the title-winning campaign the previous year. There was a clear lack of cohesion and spirit amongst the players, a situation the decision-makers at City found untenable, and it was deemed Mancini couldn't continue.
Add to that his tendency to break ranks and speak out against people within the club, most notably Brian Marwood, and it created a negativity that cast a dark cloud on the club as a whole.
The City board members and, in particular, director of football Txiki Begiristain, have a vision of how they want the club run, as well as how it should be perceived on the outside, and Mancini's handling of the media, and sometimes unrelenting criticism of his own players and staff, was not in keeping with their values.
They want a club that is admired across the world, both for its football and its image, and in their eyes Mancini wasn't the man to lead that process.
Pellegrini was deemed the man most well-suited to the task. He was hand-picked by Begiristain because of his commitment to beautiful football (Mancini was often seen as pragmatic rather than stylish), his ability to handle the media in a dignified manner and his willingness to work within a director of football style set-up, something Mancini, who tried to wrestle as much power as possible from those above him, didn't seem prepared to do.
And it became abundantly clear very quickly that Pellegrini's softer man-management approach was a breath of fresh air. The club staff felt renewed confidence and the players clearly benefited.
Those who had played within themselves the previous season, such as Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure and David Silva, were suddenly eclipsing anything they had produced before. A weight had been lifted; the players were free.
A new style of play, which had its teething problems, was introduced, and when it got into full swing it was superior to anything Mancini had overseen, including the title-winning campaign that had also brought some excellent attacking football.
This was what Begiristain had envisaged.
However, injuries to key players and rigid tactics have seen City surrender their position as favourites for the Premier League and, in truth, they need a miracle to reclaim the title. It's disappointing for those connected to the club, but the feeling inside the Etihad is that they are on the right track.
Laying the foundations for sustainable success rooted in attacking, possession-based football is Begiristain's vision, and he is likely to have seen enough evidence this season to suggest Pellegrini is the right man to continue that process.
What's clear, though, is failure to win the league will be seen as an opportunity missed. Chelsea are bereft of a decent striker, and Liverpool struggle defensively—this title should be in the bag.
However, the idea that Mancini should have been retained defies logic. He left behind a dispirited and unhappy group of players who no longer enjoyed working with him. It was best for all concerned that he left for pastures new.
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: @RobPollard_.
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