How Manuel Pellegrini Should Evolve Manchester City This Season

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How Manuel Pellegrini Should Evolve Manchester City This Season
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There's a belief across football that, although winning a title is an incredibly difficult task, defending it is much harder. Since the inception of the Premier League, Manchester United have managed it a remarkable six times, yet other than Chelsea who have achieved it once, no other side has been capable of holding on to the coveted trophy for two or more consecutive seasons.

Manchester City know how difficult it can be. They won the title in 2012—their first in 44 years—and then finished 11 points behind United 12 months later. Maintaining greatness is the most difficult aspect of any sport.

Blackburn Rovers, who won the title in 1994/95 under Kenny Dalglish, put up officially the worst defence in the Premier League era the following season when it was mathematically impossible for them to secure a second consecutive title just 225 days after winning it. David Moyes' disastrous season in charge at United last season is a close second, with the Scot relinquishing United's grip on the trophy 233 days after Alex Ferguson had secured the 13th league title of his tenure.

Manuel Pellegrini now has the unenviable task of trying to become only the third manager to defend a Premier League crown. His debut season saw City win the title and the League Cup by playing some superb football, the kind that director of football Txiki Begiristain envisaged when he took up his role at the Etihad in 2012.

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But how does he continue the clear progress made last season? It won’t be easy, that’s for sure.

The first thing is increasing the depth of quality in his squad, and with the signings of Bacary Sagna, Fernando and Willy Caballero, he appears to be doing that. There were times last season when City lacked options in certain areas; areas which have now been addressed.

Right-back was a great example. Whereas the left-back role was shared almost equally between Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy, with the Serbian starting 21 league matches to the Frenchman’s 18, Pablo Zabaleta started 33 of 38 league matches on the other side.

Micah Richards’ injuries and subsequent poor form meant he wasn’t capable of pushing for a regular place, leaving the burden firmly on Zabaleta. With Pellegrini’s full-backs expected to push forward and supplement City’s attacks, the Chilean ideally wants to be able to rotate, and the arrival of Sagna on a free transfer from Arsenal should allow that.

Similarly in goal, where Joe Hart has been relatively unchallenged since Shay Given left the club in 2011, he will now face a fight for his place, a situation which should bring the best out of him.

Although Hart was dropped for six weeks last season after a series of costly errors, it never felt like he would be out too long given the inadequacy of his replacement, Costel Pantilimon.

Caballero, who has joined from Malaga where he had previously worked under Pellegrini, is a huge step up in quality from Pantilimon, and he hasn't arrived in Manchester to sit on the bench. He offers the kind of competition the City boss wants all over the pitch.

And Pellegrini will also be looking to add some tactical diversity to his squad this season in order to better compete for four trophies. At times last season, City’s shape was too predictable, and in certain games where flexibility was needed they came unstuck.

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Lining up with a two-man central midfield in the home match with Bayern Munich was one such occasion, with City outnumbered and outpassed in midfield by a Bayern side who looked far more fluid as they won comfortably in front of a stunned Etihad crowd.

And at Anfield, in what looked at the time like a title-decider, City’s inability to play any other way than a wide open, attacking style cost them, as they fell 2-0 down in the early stages. Liverpool were famed last season for their ability to start home matches on the front foot, and a tighter start to the match from City may have seen them quieten the crowd down and get a foothold in the game. Instead they found themselves chasing the game, and ultimately lost 3-2, despite showing in the second half they were a much better side than Liverpool.

Pellegrini should be true to the attacking principles that have served him so well at City and throughout his career, but the ability to adjust in certain games is a must. With the added quality in his squad and with a year’s experience in the Premier League, he will hope to join Ferguson and Jose Mourinho as a manager who has defended the title, which is no easy task.

Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.

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