Manchester City look set for a managerial change, with Manuel Pellegrini rumored to be Roberto Mancini’s replacement. THT analyzes the potential of the Chilean and how he can oil the machinery at the Etihad if put in charge.
Manchester City ensured they would finish the season without silverware after being beaten by Wigan Athletic at Wembley last night. However, there were major reports in the papers and tabloids earlier in the day, prior to kick off, claiming Roberto Mancini’s time at the club is up. Defeat in the final almost seemed like the final nail in Mancini’s coffin after a disappointing campaign, one which started with renewed hope of a new dawn. But Manchester United had other plans, winning a record 20th league title and as Sir Alex Ferguson rides away in to the sunset, he could well have cost Mancini his job — and yet has left the blue half of Manchester a parting gift in disguise: Manuel Pellegrini.
The Malaga boss is the favourite to replace Mancini, a decision that could see one of the most gifted yet underrated managers in the world ply his trade in England. So what does the Chilean bring to the table? What implications could this appointment have on the rest of the league? Is he ready for such a high profile job?
Not many years ago, Pellegrini was linked with the Manchester United assistant manager job, but the move never materialized. At Villarreal, his first big break in Europe, he transformed the team’s playing style, assigning not so strict individual player roles and allowed the players to play with more freedom. He transformed the set up, changing from their more traditional diamond formation into a more expansive South American 4-2-2-2 formation. This system at Villarreal relied heavily on attacking fullbacks and a fluid front 4, constantly interchanging and swapping their places on the pitch. The midfield employed two stoppers who would sit deeper and provide cover to the defence. Manchester City have the exact personnel to fit this formation as they have showed in the title winning season with Mancini playing Nasri and Silva out wide initially and interchanging with Tevez and Aguero up front. The team functioned well as a unit and when in full flow resembled Villarreal’s football in their brilliant Champions League run back in 2006, eventually losing out to Arsenal after giving them a run for their money. That Champions League run along with excellent league finishes, a 2nd place finish in 2008 included, elevated Pellegrini’s status as one of the better managers in Spain and Europe.
What has been noteworthy about Pellegrini’s management is that the 59 year old has never been shy to adjust as per his resources. His one-season tenure at Real Madrid happened to tarnish his CV to an extent. A 3rd round exit in the Copa del Rey at the hands of 3rd division side Alcorcon and a round of 16 exit at the hands of a relatively mediocre Lyon side highlighted a chink in his thus far unstained armour. At Real, Pellegrini played a different formation from his Villarreal days, playing without any natural width and relying more on a dense midfield. Granero, Diarra and Xabi started in a midfield that operated as a diamond with Kaka at the tip. Madrid didn’t boast of many natural wingers at that time and Pellegrini found the best fit by playing Ronaldo as a floating striker. At Manchester City he will find himself with a similar sort of roster, with Scott Sinclair as the only out and out winger, unless of course City spend on one in the summer. Here’s a video depicting his tactical preferences where he explains his formations himself.
Pellegrini’s time at Madrid however was deemed as a failure, getting knocked out early in cup competitions and losing the league title to bitter rivals Barcelona by 3 points. His troubles at Madrid didn’t end at ending trophyless; there were also theories circulating in the media that the dressing room had turned against him. Handling the big egos at the club wasn’t the easiest of tasks and being the quiet and soft spoken person he is, Pellegrini lacked a certain stranglehold. This could be a worry as at the Etihad, as there would definitely be star players and big names too. But what will work in the Chilean’s favour is the fact that he is first choice for the job unlike at Real, and will be given time to get going, unlike the trigger happy management at Madrid. His league win percentage at Real was 82% (higher than any of the past 5 managers Madrid have appointed) and if he were to replicate that sort of form at City, a 3rd title will be all but guaranteed.
Fascinatingly Pellegrini’s shortcomings at Real were thrown out of the window immediately after he joined Malaga. Again this was a side with numerous high profile players, though not at Real Madrid’s level, but high profile nevertheless. He gelled the team as an unit and brought them Champions League football for the first time in their 105 year history. At Malaga he has shown a flexibility missing in his previous two stints, changing the team’s shape and structure throughout the game. Primarily playing a 4-2-3-1, Pellegrini showed a wonderful tactical knowhow in the Champions League clashes against Porto and Dortmund. At the Dragao he set out a team primarily focused on containing the other side rather than pummeling goals, while in the return leg despite starting with a high tempo, Pellegrini changed the system in order to utilize Porto’s high line and unsurprisingly Porto were caught out by long balls over the top, and lost the tie. The system Pellegrini chooses to apply at Malaga needs high defensive work rates from the midfielders and players in wide areas. This makes one wonder how key a role would someone like Milner play in his team, having one of the best work rates across the country.
Manuel Pellegrini’s managerial career has shown a positive slope throughout and one can only imagine the sort of impact he can have on this Manchester City side. His man management though can be questioned, but considering he hasn’t had a fall-out or been criticized by any of the players he has worked with, he should do just fine in England. However the biggest problem lies in his interactions with the media. A very soft spoken man, the 59 year old can happen to be not the wisest when it comes to words. From justifying the omission of Diarra against Lyon back in 2010 saying, “The fans would criticize him,” to commenting that it would be “irresponsible” to beat Madrid after getting thrashed 7-0 in 2011, it’s safe to say he has to improve his media handling and choice of words, considering how pestering the English media can be. Other than that, on the training ground and in the dug out, Pellegrini is as efficient as they get. A third league title for City then? If — and that’s still an if — Pellegrini is appointed as manager, surely worth more than a punt.