After a protracted saga over the summer, Manuel Pellegrini was eventually confirmed as Roberto Mancini’s successor at Manchester City.
Having announced his intention to leave his post at financially-stricken Malaga in May of that year, there was an air of inevitability to the Citizens’ announcement of the Chilean’s appointment.
Largely unheard of in European football prior to his spell in Spain, Pellegrini’s managerial reputation on the continent has largely been forged from his exploits at Villarreal and most recently Malaga. At the former, the Chilean led them to finish as high as second in La Liga as well as reaching the Champions League Semi Finals. Pellegrini’s Malaga proved to be one of the surprise packages of last season’s Champions League, dramatically exiting the competition at the Quarter Final stage to Borussia Dortmund.
Sandwiched in between these spells was an ill-fated season in charge of Real Madrid. Having been presented with record signings Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, Pellegrini led Los Merengues to a then record total of 96 league points, only to be surpassed by Barcelona. As a result, the Chilean was removed from his position at the Bernabeu.
While this relatively impressive CV compiled from his time in Spain obviously earned him the position at City, Pellegrini has yet to really convince that he is an upgrade on Mancini.
With the business stage of the season fast approaching, Pellegrini’s side are not in the strongest position to guarantee any success that would justify the managerial change at this point.
Initially the Chilean had transformed the Etihad into a domestic fortress. Rivals such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur were simply blown away by dominant attacking play. Surpassed only by Liverpool for league goals scored, Pellegrini has managed to bring the best out of his attacking talent, with Sergio Aguero and new signing Alvaro Negredo enjoying prolific campaigns.
Yet this streak has faltered in recent weeks. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea successfully stifled the Citizens in their critical league fixture at the start of February and the performances seem to have suffered as a result. Goals are not longer flowing quite so easily. A nine-point gap has opened up to Chelsea at the summit of the table, although they do possess the necessary games in hand to pull level.
Tactically, Pellegrini has been found wanting in some of the biggest games this season. The 4-4-2 formation may have achieved spectacular success but was exposed brutally by Bayern Munich earlier this season and rendered impotent by Mourinho’s Chelsea more recently. The Chilean’s stubborn refusal to adapt in these matches highlights a tactical deficiency which could prove costly come the end of the season.
Sunday’s FA Cup defeat at home to Championship Wigan Athletic evoked painful memories of last season’s loss at the hands of the same opposition and is undoubtedly Pellegrini’s worst result at the club to date. With the chances of overturning of a two-goal deficit at the Nou Camp seeming highly improbable, the Chilean’s last chance to add to his Capital One Cup triumph realistically rests upon his ability to overtake Jose’s “little horses”.
Therefore, with Chelsea currently the favourites for the title and advancement in Europe looking very unlikely, it remains to be seen what improvements Pellegrini has actually made on Mancini’s side. A one-step progression in the Champions League and a Capital One Cup triumph is hardly the success that Sheikh Mansour would have hoped for from his new appointment.
Mancini’s final season in charge was disappointing, but perhaps not as disastrous as it was first made out though. For example, while their title defence was abysmal, City were beaten to the top by a Manchester United side that won a record 25 out of their opening 30 fixtures. Their second consecutive Champions League group stage exit seems less embarrassing considering the fact that they were knocked out by Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in a genuine “group of death”.
Mancini failed but perhaps not so spectacularly as many would think. For a manager who had delivered Premier League and FA Cup success to a club that has only just been blessed with the riches to compete with football’s elite, his sacking seemed a little premature.
Perhaps it is harsh to judge Pellegrini before the end of his first full season. But then again, he is the manager at a club that has proven before that it is not likely to afford him the time or stability to imprint his philosophy for the long term.
Arguably both Mancini and Pellegrini should have delivered more on Sheikh Mansour’s investment, but has the latter proven to be an upgrade on his predecessor? The evidence so far would seem to suggest otherwise.