I was skeptical of whether or not the criticism of Man City manager Manuel Pelligrini was justified all the way up to last month, but with losses to relegation threatened Burnley and mid-table Crystal Palace the criticism seems justified. City went from within 5 points of the league leaders after their 1-1 draw with Chelsea just after New Years to 9 points back and now in 4th place. So what went wrong and is Pellgrini’s job safe?
The main point of what is make or break for Pelligrini would be the Champions League. 4th place is only the qualifying round, which City can probably win comfortably but still a round less than desired. On top of that, if Liverpool re-found their form the Reds could try to close the gap to City to try and contest for it. That is however very unlikely, and Liverpool’s recent loss of form, including their 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal, should be the saving grace for Pelligrini’s men to at least qualify for the Champions League next season.
Champions League Struggles
What about in the competition itself? The 3-1 aggregate loss to Barcelona was not something to take negatively in my opinion. City played tough in both legs, but just don’t have the quality to oust the Spanish giants. Drawing them in the Round of 16 was unlucky, but their group stage struggles are what should be highlighted. Their 2-1 loss to CSKA Moscow was probably the lowest point of their struggles in the competition, but it meant that only a worldly performance and hat-trick from Sergio Aguero against German giants Bayern Munich saved them from going out at the group stage. Quite simply, more was left to be desired from City’s group stage performances.
Then there are the players. Aguero is solid but often injured (albeit he has had a pretty decent 2 seasons both this one and last). Captain Vincent Kompany looks to be past his prime or extremely out of form as he struggles to keep up with the speed of the league. Yaya Toure has become unsettled by the club despite being one of their key figures in the midfield there and Frank Lampard’s spark that kept him at the club until June has fizzled out. Age also seems to be an issue. Demichelis, Sanga, and Toure are already over 30, with Dzeko, Navad, Silva, Clichy, Kompany, and Fernandinho either 30 or less than a year away from it. The squad is hardly the youngest in the Premier League at the moment and their on field speed and anticipation seem to also be behind that of their more youthful counter-parts (i.e. Chelsea, Arsenal).
Summer Window Failures
This brings me to 1 final point: their signings. Pelligrini as a manager proved how capable he is in getting the best out of his players, and effectively playing them as a unit. Last year’s League & Capital One Cup double was certainly a good sign of that. This year is more proof of his inability to navigate the transfer market. Aside from the Financial Fair Play restrictions City are under, City still paid £22 million for Alvaro Negredo & Bruno Zuculini who have now been loaned out. In addition to this, Fernandinho, Jovetic, and Navas, all of whom were signed 2 summers ago, have only played a combined 72 of the total 93 games on offer this season (77%). While that number is not too low, it’s certainly now high enough for their combined £72 million price tag, £22 million of which is Jovetic’s fee alone for his 17 appearances. The poor transfer business has continued, with Mangala signing for a £32 million and only making 18 appearances for the club this season. The money thrown around by City at these players is equal to what Arsenal were using to buy an Alexis Sanchez, or Chelsea to acquire Diego Costa. The buys where there for City but Pelligrini seems to have failed to see them and now the ultimate insult could be on its way with former manager Roberto Manchini keen on both Jovetic and Toure, the both of which he will probably get at a cheaper fee than what City paid for them.
So what needs to be done? City are in need of a youth system to help bolster their ranks. The midfield needs work with Tour and Lampard leaving while the defense is aging rapidly. Zabaletta is probably the man to build a new back line around, as he’s still one of the top defenders in the league at the moment. Demichelis, Kompany, and Clichy are probably worth replacing and Fernandino and Fernando are not the answer to the midfield problem. Oscar will be available from Chelsea this summer, or so rumours say. Paul Pogba could also be available, although he’s more suited on wing than forward midfield. Defensive options look scarcer, with Dani Alves an option to come out of Spain but he’s also 30 meaning City will not necessarily be getting a younger back line. Douglas Costa from Donetsk is an option as well, but can they meet the price tag and outbid a hungry Chelsea for him? Toby Alderweireld is one option over in Southampton but I doubt the Saints will let him go after this season. Aside from those 3 the market is considerably weak for defenders, as is the case these days in the sport.
Aside from all of this the glaring question remains: Does Pelligrini keep his job to even test the summer waters again at the City helm? I feel it is unlikely. Real Madrid’s 9-1 thumping of Granada could mean their return to form, but if they fail to run down Barcelona and are knocked out of the Champions League Carlo Ancelotti could become available as manager. He seems like he would enjoy taking the City job on and he’s certainly built Premier League champion teams before. His sacking from Chelsea was part of a chain of sackings over the years that has almost turned into a chronic disease for Chelsea owner Roman Ibramovic, who is on his 9th managerial spell in 10 years (8 managers in total as this is Mourinho’s 2nd spell with the club). Jurgen Klopp was also totted to replace the Chilean but I don’t think he will move from Dortmund and certainly the German side are bound to be better next season. If they are not, then Klopp could become available, but who would take the City helm in the meantime should the board axe Pelligrini remains the unsolved mystery.
All About the Timing
In my opinion, the time is right to move Pellgrini on and away from City. His achievements are to be applauded but the inconsistencies in building the franchise the City owners are craving for enough to look elsewhere. I don’t necessarily think this off-season would be the time to do it however if Real Madrid win the Champions League. There’s not enough coaching talent out there to fill the gap, as is customary the summer after the World Cup and Ancelotti seems the only option.
So Football community I must ask you. What do you think? Should City axe the Chilean? Who can replace Pelligrini?