10 Biggest Concerns for Manuel Pellegrini Ahead of New Premier League Season
To watch Pellegrini on the touchline and in press conferences is to see an unflappable, confident and utterly unconcerned man in control of his work and his emotions.
But you have to imagine that, when the supporters and the media leave the ground, Pellegrini spends hours and sometimes days trying to keep rein on the inevitable doubts that chasing four trophies will cause.
"Manuel Pellegrini was brought in to do his talking on the pitch, and any reporter who has tried to get a headline out of the Chilean over the course of the last year knows just how well he has succeeded," wrote Chris Wheeler for the Daily Mail recently.
What follows here are the things Pellegrini would probably rather not talk about as he persists in showing a controlled mien amid frenzied fans and manic press.
10. City's Early Premier League Schedule
Legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt noted that: "You can't win games in the first half, but you certainly can lose them."
Manuel Pellegrini could be excused for looking at Manchester City's early league schedule and fretting that the Sky Blues might lose control of their own destiny before October.
In their first six league matches, City host Chelsea and Liverpool and travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal. Pellegrini's men begin at Newcastle United, who surely remember getting dusted at the Etihad by City in last season's Premier League opener for both sides.
If City are as good as they think they are, 12 points from those six fixtures should be manageable. Anything less and City might be closer to the middle of the table than the top of it come October.
9. Vincent Kompany
Manuel Pellegrini does not need to worry that Vincent Kompany is going anywhere any time soon.
"Vincent Kompany has signed a new five-year contract at Manchester City worth in excess of a basic £31m, with the captain targeting five titles before he leaves the club," wrote Jamie Jackson recently for the Guardian.
Jackson quoted Kompany thus:
I want to be able to look back in my career and say that I won four or five at City. It’s a tough ask, particularly when you know how difficult the league is. But it’s something I’m ready to fight for every day.
That is certainly the spirit Pellegrini wants from his captain. But Pellegrini has to wonder whether Kompany's body will permit multiple title challenges in the coming seasons.
Kompany limped to last season's finish line, playing through nagging injuries that limited him to 28 Premier League starts in 2013-14. Kompany made 26 league starts in 2012-13.
Inasmuch as there are 38 league matches every season, Kompany's durability must be a worry.
8. Yaya Toure
After a summer of discontent, it appears that Yaya Toure is happy to wear Manchester City's sky blue for another season, maybe more.
“It was not a case of me wanting to leave the club. I stayed quiet, I believe that is the right way, and at the end of the day it’s my decision,” Toure said recently per Steve Brenner of the Guardian. “I will stay at Man City for as long as possible.”
Well, Toure says a lot of things.
"Toure had looked certain to leave City after a series of bizarre rows with club officials only days after winning the Premier League title, when he accused them of disrespecting him on his birthday before complaining about being denied time to spend with his dying brother," Brenner recounted.
It would be nice if Pellegrini could be sure that Toure would quietly go about his business in 2014-15.
But smart money would not bet on that.
7. Joe Hart and Willy Caballero
Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart's performance at the beginning of last season was so erratic that it inspired slideshows.
City addressed Hart's propensity to implode in the summer by adding Willy Caballero to the club. And let the goalkeeping controversy begin.
"I always decide the best team for every game. Maybe people are going to ask the same question before every game, but I don’t know the difference between Joe Hart and Willy Caballero," Pellegrini told Ian Cruise of talkSPORT.
As a long-time Philadelphia Flyers fan, your humble correspondent can attest that when you have two "starting goalkeepers," you really do not even have one.
6. Eliaquim Mangala
Last summer, Manchester City did everything within its ludicrous fiscal might to ensure Pellegrini's success.
City acquired four players—Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo—spending over £100 million on new talent. Jovetic did little last season, though the other three were key contributors to City's second Premier League title in three seasons.
Unfortunately for Pellegrini and City, UEFA has been watching City's balance sheets carefully and City are now under a form of double-secret probation due to Financial Fair Play issues, per the Independent.
Which means that the £32 million City spent on Eliaquim Mangala this summer needs to pay dividends. Unfortunately, early returns are not promising.
"I think that I will need a bit of time to be 100 percent but it is normal. It is like those who returned to training last week but I will work hard in order to be 100 percent as soon as possible," Mangala told Jamie Jackson of the Guardian.
5. Champions League Expectations as Against History
Manchester City supporters would love to believe that the club is enjoying a natural progression with regard to the Champions League.
After earlier unsuccessful attempts to qualify for the knockout round, City progressed there for the first time last season. However, the Sky Blues were pretty thoroughly worked over by Barcelona, though it was still a landmark moment for the club.
The question for Pellegrini now is, what next?
Will City make it past the first knockout round this season? Will they even get there? If City were somehow not to qualify for the Champions League knockout round this season, uncomfortable questions about Pellegrini's ability to take City to the top of the football mountain are sure to surface.
City faithful would love to think that their side will organically become a more serious Champions League contender with time and repetitions. Unfortunately, it does not always turn out like that.
Especially when City's Financial Fair Play problems are going to limit what Pellegrini can do with his side selections. Pellegrini has all he can handle on this front.
4. Alvaro Negredo
Alvaro Negredo's metatarsal injury is just the latest setback for a player who appears to now be paying off a deal with the devil.
Negredo burst onto the Premier League scene last season, scoring 23 times in all competitions through the end of January.
Then he injured his shoulder against West Ham United in a Capital One Cup match shortly after the turn of the year and failed to score again for the rest of the season.
The easy take is that Pellegrini still has Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic there to carry the water up front, therefore Negredo may not even be missed. That easy take is also simple, as in "simpleton."
Negredo's scoring binges in the first half of last season helped City weather Joe Hart's early struggles and City's generally terrible away form in the first two months of the season.
And given City's pursuit of four prizes, Pellegrini cannot really afford to have Negredo continue to flounder. He needs the Spaniard to heal and find his scoring touch again as soon as possible.
3. Playing-Time Problems
Pellegrini said upon being introduced as City's manager last summer that City needed "a stronger squad with two players in each position."
According to Adam Crafton of the Daily Mail, City might already be there:
They could quite easily field two teams of the highest quality. On the weekend, it could be: Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernando, Toure, Silva, Nasri, Aguero, Dzeko. For a midweek cup game, Pellegrini can shuffle his pack and the standard would barely dip: Caballero, Zabaleta, Nastasic, Mangala, Kolarov, Lampard, Fernandinho, Navas, Milner, Jovetic, Negredo.
It looks so easy for Pellegrini, until you consider that players like Pablo Zabaleta, Jesus Navas, Fernandinho and James Milner (among others) surely do not see themselves as cup fill-ins.
"Basically, I want to be here—as long as I'm playing. I love it here and hopefully I can be here for a long time to come. But that's determined on how much football I get," Milner recently told Paul Handler of the Manchester Evening News.
Pellegrini may soon find that his club is too talented and too deep for its own good.
2. Sergio Aguero
It is a credit to Pellegrini and Manchester City that they won the Premier League title last season with their putative best striker perpetually struggling to force the clutch into fourth gear.
Sergio Aguero scored 17 Premier League goals last season, which tied the Argentine for fourth place in the league in scoring. And yet it could have been so much better.
Aguero made only 23 league appearances for City. Were it not for significant early scoring heroics from Alvaro Negredo and late boosts from Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure, City would never have surged across the line to claim the title in the end.
Pellegrini should rightfully worry about Aguero's fitness because when Aguero is fit he is easily one of the best strikers in the league. Aguero creates mismatches, frees up teammates to attack and finishes clinically. Pellegrini's job, and that of Aguero's teammates, is easier when Aguero plays.
But when Aguero cannot play, City ends up in too many 1-0 games in which everyone stands around waiting for someone to do something.
In his first season as City manager, Pellegrini's cool was palpable—except for the times he lost it.
And those times always seemed to involve Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
"I do not respond to things Mourinho says every week, otherwise he will continue to talk about things not involving football. I will not continue every week talking about things that for me are not an important level," Pellegrini said in February per the Metro's Hannah Duncan.
Duncan's piece chronicled some of the longstanding animosity between the two managers, though it somehow missed reference to the time Mourinho celebrated a late winner over Pellegrini by heading into the stands.
Maybe Pellegrini dislikes Mourinho. Maybe it's an act. But it isn't Mourinho that should really trouble Pellegrini. It is Mourinho's club.
Chelsea were a competent striker away from winning the Premier League last season. They do not lack a competent striker any more.
"Jose Mourinho said he was delighted with his new striker Diego Costa after the £32 million signing from Atletico Madrid scored twice in the opening seven minutes of his first appearance for his new club at Stamford Bridge," noted the Guardian.
Many things will go bump during the night for Pellegrini this season, but Chelsea are the most likely night-time fright to be real.