The effects of Manuel Pellegrini’s arrival at Manchester City are already being felt.
After two unsuccessful attempts with Roberto Mancini, the club are finally through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Mancini’s failings in that particular department stretched back to his days with Inter Milan, where upon his departure, Jose Mourinho put the wheels in motion for an unprecedented sweep of all major honours for an Italian club during his second season. It’s also proof that no matter how strong or talented a squad, success on every front isn’t a given.
But despite the chasm of quality between City and Bayern Munich earlier this season – a match that illustrates how far the best in England have to go to catch up with the best from Germany – Pellegrini has made a much-needed improvement where his predecessor couldn’t.
Another battle seemingly won for the Chilean is that of Samir Nasri, who looks reinvented this season. Last season, Nasri felt the brunt of fans’ frustrations following his display in the Manchester derby. This weekend, he scored twice against Swansea, adding to his one against Viktoria Plzen in midweek.
Nasri has always had the talent but needed someone to help him back on course. Nasri revealed that part of his resurgence is due to confidence offered by another manager – it may not be too hard to guess who – but Pellegrini should take some credit too. Prior to this season, it seemed like the best and most likely conclusion was for Nasri to move on.
And then there’s City’s imperious form at home. At the Etihad, it’s a take-no-prisoners approach from Pellegrini’s men. It doesn’t matter if it’s their close rivals and fellow title contenders or simply a mid-table team. Everyone gets treated with equal ruthlessness when they visit the blue half of Manchester; with the exception, of course, of Bayern.
Right now, Pellegrini has half of the overall war won. It doesn’t appear as though there is a team in the league who can match them at home. The City hierarchy want a trophy a season, and while the Champions League is theoretically out of reach, simple improvements to add to their home record should bear fruit domestically.
But how simple are the problems at City, namely the team’s away record? It’s a problem that isn’t central to just Pellegrini; this poor run of form stretches back to the start of the calendar year under Mancini, and yet there’s nothing wrong with the personnel – at least nothing that should prevent them from doing better than they currently are.
Pellegrini is shaping this team into a better unit than they were in the past, but it should also not be forgotten that this is the first time he’s been settled at a big club.
Real Madrid is a completely different case. More or less from the offset, Pellegrini was battling to prove his position as manager. After the 4-1 aggregate loss to Alcorcon in the Copa De Rey, some sections of the Madrid media had made up their minds that he was no good. Prior to this season, his only track record in Europe was with relative underdogs.
But he did a fine job at both Villarreal and Malaga, to such an extent that he should have full backing to improve matters at City. If domestic accomplishments aren’t enough, then look to the Champions League, where last season alone he took Malaga further than any English side.
Away from home with City, there are tactical improvements that can be made. The option of two strikers with four onrushing midfielders, of necessary quality, will almost always outscore the opposition, which is what they’re currently doing at home. But as simple as it is, home advantage does play a part.
Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are not defensive midfielders in the traditional sense, operating far more as box-to-box players. For each, their natural instinct is to surge forward. We have enough evidence of Toure doing that, but look to Fernandinho’s time at Shakhtar for evidence of the way he plays.
The loss of Gareth Barry is evident. There is now a bigger gap between the midfield and the defence. It can be compensated for at home, as mentioned, but not always away, where there is the higher probability of being overrun.
Part of the problem, too, is that football, being a results business, won’t always offer the time that is needed to fully transform or evolve a team. Not a great deal is needed at City, but should Pellegrini fail to bring home silverware at the end of the season, will his fate be decided on that alone, or will there be considerations for how much he’s done during the short time he’s been in charge?