Manuel Pellegrini's Accelerated Learning Curve Bad News for Premier League Foes

Phil KeidelContributor IIAugust 26, 2014

Stevan Jovetic had himself a night against Liverpool.
Stevan Jovetic had himself a night against Liverpool.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Manchester City won the Premier League crown in Manuel Pellegrini's first season as manager, which was impressive enough.

Two matches into his second season in charge at City, though, Pellegrini seems to be learning the league and what it takes to make his side perform optimally at an unheard-of clip.

That projects to be real trouble for City's opponents as the rest of this season plays out.

City have only played two matches, which is only one more than the ultimate small sample size. But even in those two matches, Pellegrini has addressed two of City's most significant weaknesses from last season.

Away to Newcastle to open the league campaign, City blanked the Magpies while not allowing a single shot on target. 

In his match report, The Guardian's Daniel Taylor noted that "(p)erhaps the most worrying part for the teams hoping to outdo Manchester City is that the champions have continued from where they left off last season, while also leaving the clear impression there is better to come."

Two cameo appearances, two goals for Aguero.
Two cameo appearances, two goals for Aguero.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Maybe the most encouraging aspect of City's opening victory was the feeling that their pitiful road form that plagued the early months of the 2013-14 season is not apt to recur.

Much of the blame for City's troubles last autumn fell on goalkeeper Joe Hart. He was not blameless, but looking back on City's Premier League losses at Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Chelsea, it is apparent that City did not play particularly well in front of him.

It is amazing how good a goalkeeper can look when, as City did at St James' Park in the 2014-15 opener, the field players have the majority of possession and consistently frustrate the opposition's build-up play.

City's win at Newcastle, while a nice departure from their feeble road performances of last fall, was at some level an extension of City's finishing run to last season, which included crucial wins over Manchester United at Old Trafford and over Everton at Goodison Park.

Pellegrini's most recent work, though, promises to resonate.

Liverpool gave City fits last season. Maybe that is how a tweet like this one comes to be:

Rodgers had reason to believe in his side.

Phillippe Coutinho scored against City both times Liverpool played them last season. City had few answers for Raheem Sterling's pace in either match.

City's lone win against Liverpool last season came at the Etihad after a Sterling breakaway was wrongly flagged offside and Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet flubbed an Alvaro Negredo strike.

So Liverpool's arrival at the Etihad so early in this season carried the weight of threat. Then Pellegrini showed, again, that he is constantly learning.

Liverpool dominated a long stretch of play in the first half, and yet their best chance was a Sturridge shot from an acute angle straight at Hart, who parried it away without much trouble.

Conversely, Liverpool made only one glaring defensive error in the first half against City, and Stevan Jovetic buried it with ruthless grace.

If a hallmark of a contending team is the ability to win without playing their best, City surely looked like potential champions leading at halftime despite their iffy display.

As the match wore on, it was apparent that Pellegrini had succeeded in forcing Liverpool's attack wide with the combination of City's high defensive line and resolute defending in their penalty area.

City captain Vincent Kompany played a terrific match, but unlike so many times last season he had a ton of help. Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy worked tirelessly to keep both Liverpool attackers and the ball away from Hart.

The only misfortune City suffered against Liverpool was self-inflicted, as Zabaleta's clinical finish beat Hart cleanly for an own goal. But that gaffe made the score 3-1 with a handful of minutes to play, and City's result was never threatened.

As it stands, no opposing player has scored against City in the 190 or so minutes they have played this season.

Writing for The Independent, Sam Wallace put a bow on City's win over Liverpool this way

When a player of the quality of Sergio Aguero can be dispatched as a substitute, ostensibly the third-choice striker on the night, then beating the modern City can be a daunting prospect. Their progress is relentless and those chasing them cannot permit themselves a backward step.

Maybe City have only played two matches, but the pundits are already lining up to announce that City look nothing like a club capable of regression or slippage.

It is no coincidence that the club is led by a manager like Pellegrini, who began his tenure brilliantly and seems only to be getting smarter and better.