When Manuel Pellegrini was hired by Manchester City, he was charged with bringing stability to a squad that had little of it, and take the Etihad club to new heights. In his first season, he won a double, which included his team’s amazing comeback from a substantial deficit to win the Premier League title and also helping City capture the Capital One Cup. Critically, City finally reached the Champions League knockout stage, before being felled by Barcelona. Season two was supposed to bring further improvement and growth, but Pellegrini finds himself in a tricky situation. The Champions League is the logical next step for his club in its evolution, but the likelihood of City advancing is just as high as it was last year, which is to say not very.
Rumors have already begun to swirl that Pellegrini could be replaced this summer if City don’t fare well in the Champions League or the Premier League. If he wins the title, obviously he’ll stay on board, but the Champions League is what everyone wants to see progress in, which is why this two-legged tie against Barcelona might well decide Pellegrini’s fate.
Manchester City are a totally different team with Yaya Toure in the side, as the Africa Cup of Nations showed everyone. The midfielder has dynamism, steel, tactical nous, and the experience needed to win Europe’s biggest club competition. The 5-0 win over Newcastle United showed everyone what City at the height of their powers looks like. Now, City must replicate that performance against Barcelona, who exposed City this time last season.
Last year’s Barcelona squad was by no means a vintage one, and some would say it’s been their worst squad in five or six years. Yet they were still able to comprehensively beat the English champions league over two legs. What can Pellegrini do to stifle Barcelona this time? He might want to look at what his former club Málaga just did to Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Try to clog the spaces in midfield, limit the areas where Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez can operate and counter swiftly with David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Easier said than done, but Barcelona lacks quality in defense this season, and if Toure can play at his exalted level, Manchester City have every chance of winning this tie.
It’s set up nicely for Pellegrini this time. Beating Barcelona would show improvement for City, even if they were to go out in the quarterfinals come April. Whether that’s enough for the board at the Etihad Stadium remains to be seen, but this tie will do a lot to determine the future of many at Manchester City this summer.
It’s time for Manchester City to take a step forward as a European power. We’ll see whether Pellegrini takes that step with them.
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