Misery in Madrid Means Manuel Pellegrini Is Under the Most Title Race Pressure

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistApril 4, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 25:  Manchester City Manager Manuel Pellegrini looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on March 25, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge shows no signs of slowing down, at least if last Sunday’s 4-0 dismantling of Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield is anything to go by.

But despite the goals of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, the high-energy, high-octane displays of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson and the midfield authority imposed by Steven Gerrard, there has always been one opponent that plenty feel that the Reds won’t be able to get the better of; pressure.

With a team full of largely young talents and with Gerrard so desperate to land the one club trophy that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career, many onlookers have been waiting for the gravity of the situation to hit home and for the Reds to choke.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers gives a thumbs up during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on February 8, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

With Anfield manager Brendan Rodgers in just his third season as a top-flight boss then such beliefs are understandable, but with this fuss all seeming new to the apparently fearless 41-year-old, perhaps the pressure should be being felt by Liverpool’s title rivals down the M62, and specifically by their manager.

Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has done an admirable job in his first season in England, as he’s redeveloped his side to become more of an explosive, attacking force than they were under the Chilean’s predecessor Roberto Mancini.

He picked up a trophy at the first time of asking when City lifted the League Cup at Wembley last month, but that was his first silverware of any kind since his Villarreal team beat Atletico Madrid on penalties to lift the Intertoto Cup 10 years ago. He has still never won a league title in Europe.

Of course it is somewhat harsh to judge Pellegrini on trophies given that he made his name by turning Villarreal from just another La Liga team into Champions League semi-finalists, but nonetheless the situation he finds himself in at the top of the table this season is likely to make the 60-year-old recall some of the darker days of his career, or rather the darkest season.

MALAGA, SPAIN - MAY 16: Head coach Manuel Pellegrini (L) gives instructions to Cristiano Ronaldo during the La Liga match between Malaga and Real Madrid at La Rosaleda Stadium on May 16, 2010 in Malaga, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Judged solely on the numbers, Pellegrini’s only campaign in charge of Real Madrid in 2009/10 was a pretty impressive one.

Nicknamed “The Engineer,” Pellegrini saw his team manufacture 31 wins from their 38 La Liga games over the season, scoring 102 goals and picking up 96 points. The trouble was, Barcelona got 99.

Having lost to Barca both home and away without scoring a goal, crashing out of the Copa del Rey to lowly Alcorcon 4-1 on aggregate and being knocked out of the Champions League in the last-16 stage by Lyon, the Madrid-based press were merciless to Pellegrini, a man they had seemingly never wanted in the job in the first place.

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 10:  Head coach Manuel Pellegrini of Real Madrid reacts to his players as Marcelo Vieira sits on the pitch during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Mallorca at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on January 10, 2010 in Madrid, Sp
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

As Tim Stannard explains in greater detail in a recent article for Four Four Two, the spiteful anti-Pellegrini campaign—led by Marca—frequently called the manager’s ability to do his job into question. It didn't matter that the boss was competing against arguably one of the greatest club sides in history in the 2009/10 Barcelona; the fact that Real had spent heavily on Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso that summer simply demanded instant success.

With Jose Mourinho waiting in the wings and the suggestion, at least in that article from Stannard, that sources from within the club were briefing the press to make Pellegrini look bad, it was a thoroughly miserable time for a likeable and down-to-earth manager.

After the Champions League exit to Lyon ensured that Real wouldn't be playing in the Bernabeu final, club president Florentino Perez told Pellegrini that he’d be sacked if he didn't win the league (The Guardian). When Barca clinched the title in May, he was as good as his word.

Perez and most of the Madrid fans didn’t care about Pellegrini’s pleas for time and his insistence that the rebirth of the Galacticos project wasn't what his team needed, and he was soon out of the door and replaced by the swaggering presence of Mourinho.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Wigan manager Uwe Rosler and Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini look on during the FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic at the Etihad Stadium on March 9, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Of course no-one is suggesting that Pellegrini will be sacked if City fail to win this season’s Premier League, but after an FA Cup exit to lower league opposition in Wigan and being knocked out of the Champions League in the last-16 again—ironically this time by Barcelona—the similarities are stacking up for him.

Should the manager’s unwanted treble be completed by City losing out on the league title to an equally vibrant, free-scoring team spearheaded by a remarkably prolific South American, Pellegrini will again be haunted by those memories of 2009/10.

Pressure can often be created by what you've already experienced rather than what you are about to, and as far as City, Liverpool, Pellegrini and Rodgers go, that might just have a bearing on these tense closing weeks of a thrilling title race.


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