Things change fast in football. It wasn’t so long ago that Manuel Pellegrini was being applauded for Manchester City’s finest hour in the Champions League, when they turned over Sevilla 3-1 away from home. After that night it was suggested City had finally matured and managed to tactically crack Europe.
Fast-forward to last Saturday evening and suddenly he is naïve. Does the truth lie somewhere between these extremes and is the Chilean too stubborn to change?
Following the result it seems many Manchester City fans had the foresight of Nostradamus, claiming they knew a defeat was on the cards once they saw the team sheet. Admittedly, it’s easy to point out faults with Pellegrini’s weekend selection but the way the opposing managers have been portrayed after the event is embarrassing.
Jurgen Klopp has been described as the meticulous planner to Manuel’s cobbled together one-dimensional plan. While it’s true – and clearly evident – that Klopp does approach each game with a deep level of research, it’s ludicrous to suggest Pellegrini picks his team as if he’s playing Fantasy Football.
Looking at the highly debated team selection there are obvious areas to criticise. The omission of Fernandinho is the most startling. Every attack minded side needs a player to do the work behind the creative types. It’s often a thankless task but when missing it’s glaringly obvious how important it is.
At first glance it is even more baffling because he only played 13 minutes while away on international duty so it’s safe to assume he wasn’t too fatigued. Pellegrini can’t use trans-Atlantic flight as an excuse when one half of his centre-back pairing, Martin Demichelis, did the same.
Regardless of presumed tiredness, another factor should be taken into account; recently Fernando has been winning over his critics. Fernandinho can’t be expected to play every game so when he’s rested – for whatever reason – there needs to be an understudy Pellegrini can trust. Fernando failed the audition, and it’s not his first attempt at the role. Now it seems Fernando is only a viable option if Fernandinho is there to hold his hand.
Which brings us to another selection that has angered people, or rather, the non-selection of Nicolas Otamendi. The problem here is more embarrassing for City. The feeling is after spending in excess of £60m on Mangala and Otamendi, at this moment in time, they can’t be trusted to play alongside one another, despite the fact they once did for Porto.
Their individual performances and form prove they work best with an experienced head alongside them. Mangala looked a reborn player alongside Vincent Kompany this season and Otamendi turned in man of the match performances when partnered with the captain.
With the Belgium international taking one of his allotted injury breaks, Pellegrini reverted to a pairing he thought he could trust. Last season Martin Demichelis mentored Mangala through matches, routinely commanding and reaffirming the Frenchman’s movement and sense of position. But no partner could have coaxed Mangala through a game when he’s making the mistakes we saw on Saturday.
Another thing that links the Fernandinho and Otamendi omissions is the upcoming Champions League fixture against Juventus. It’s no secret that the club demand a clear improvement in Europe and Pellegrini knows topping the group will – drawing PSG, aside – make his life immeasurably easier in the next round.
This isn’t to say he didn’t respect Liverpool or underestimated them. But just as Bayern Munich and Barcelona are good enough to approach any fixture with complete faith in their game-plan, Pellegrini is right to do the same every time City play at home in the Premier League.
Liverpool are currently an unknown quantity under Klopp but the reason Pellegrini said he’d play the same eleven men again without changing a thing is because he believes that team should beat Liverpool – and he’s right.
Pellegrini does not come cross as great motivator. You can see that on the bench. He needs to get out and starting sending orders!
— BC007 (@BlueCitizen007) November 22, 2015
Ultimately the majority of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of the players. It’s clear the team lack leaders. Their only true one that plays outfield is the injured Kompany. Hart does a valiant job but as a ‘keeper, he is isolated. Yaya Toure may wear the armband but he fails to motivate the side. There’s no doubt he can change a game but all-too-often he trundles around the pitch as if he’s been shot in one foot.
Pellegrini’s main job should be rooting out the bad attitudes that allow a lacklustre pace and low work rate enter proceedings. Some, like Fernando, can be forgiven for not living up to the task. At the weekend even Navas and Sterling can be excused for a lack of service. But as a whole the team needs to take responsibility for a lack of fight and rolling over.
It was City’s heaviest defeat at the Etihad and the worst performance since they have been restructured with heavy investment. If some of this is down to a naivety with Pellegrini it’s how he trusted his men to do the jobs they’d been assigned.
His belief has made him appear stubborn but he’s too far into his tenure, with too much spent on the current style, for a radical overhaul. It can be maddening when a manager comes across as a cantankerous fool but it will feel far more frustrating for him when he knows his players are under-performing.
Pellegrini’s main stupidity as been not addressing the lack of leaders and accepting blips will occur, like the Tottenham Hotspur game. Those blips are starting to come too frequently. He needs to address the effort of his players. Once he does, the tactics will work just fine.