Manchester City Showing Tactical Pragmatism That Was Lacking in Early Season Defeats
Manchester City failed to win five of its first six away matches in the Premier League this season. Much of that was down to the naivety in how new manager Manuel Pellegrini, whose entire managerial resume was previously in South America or Spain, approached away matches in English football.
On September 30, following a loss to Aston Villa, I wrote the following:
Roberto Mancini proved that getting results away from Eastlands often meant being narrow and compact. I have made this point repeatedly but mouthwatering football, demanded by many supporters of clubs in the northwest of England does not always translate to good results. I understand why many City fans favor the Pellegrini approach but they must be willing to accept a downturn in results from the Mancini era in order to do so. I am not saying it is implicit that if you play nicely you don’t achieve results, but with a non-established power like Manchester City, the new style was always going to run the risk of a decline in league place. Stoke at another level may experience a similar situation this season. It’s also worth noting the easiest portion of the Blues schedule is now over and next week starting with bogey team Everton, who Manchester City has beaten just twice in the last fourteen league meetings; City faces a gauntlet of imposing fixtures. Based on the start and fixtures played thus far, the Blues have the flimsiest title credentials of any highly fancied Premier League club at this point.
Pellegrini’s approach had critics salivating about the Blues playing style. Yet, at the last international break, Manchester City sat eighth in the league, behind both Spurs and Manchester United who have navigated one crisis after another this season. In the matches against Aston Villa and Cardiff City, the Blues had turned early second half leads into 3-2 loses. In both cases Pellegrini failed to adjust properly to playing defensively. In both matches he instead set out to chase a two goal lead leaving the side overwhelmed in the middle of pitch and leading to two shocking defeats to sides potentially fighting relegation.
But beginning with an away date at West Brom in early December, Pellegrini showed he could play narrow and compact football to get results or to hold on in important away matches. Take for example the December 7 draw at Southampton. With the flow of the game clearly favoring the Saints in the second half, Pellegrini dropped an attacking player and brought on defensive midfielder Javi Garcia to give more support to Fernandinho and the struggling Yaya Toure. The Blues saw out a 1-1 draw in a match that surely would have seen a Saints victory just a month or two earlier.
On New Year’s Day with Swansea controlling possession and disrupting Manchester City’s midfield, Pellegrini brought on Garcia immediately after the Blues took a 2-1 lead. Minutes later he brought on James Milner for Samir Nasri, because Milner’s defensive work rate and tactical awareness tends to be better than that of the Frenchman. Finally with Swansea applying pressure, Pellegrini put Jack Rodwell on and the Blues played as compactly as the side could to see out the match. Wilfried Bony got a goal to cut the Blues lead to 3-2 but the additional help in central midfield allowed Manchester City to minimize the Swans pressure.
Pellegrini was charged by the management at Manchester City to win while changing the style of play. While the two goals are not mutually exclusive, the manager has learned in some cases you must sacrifice style.
The Chilean Manager has shown a degree of pragmatism in the last month he had not demonstrated previously. Clearly he is learning the way to secure points away from home and with it, the Blues once flimsy title credentials have become extraordinarily legitimate.
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