Escaping narratives is difficult. They’re ever-present and often times inescapable. So is the case with Manchester City’s 2015-16 campaign, and particularly their departing manager Manuel Pellegrini. He won the League Cup and Premier League in his first campaign, dropped quite a bit in form last season, and will be exiting stage right after this season with some City fans and onlookers wanting more. But should they? After City’s impressive two-legged win over PSG, should Pellegrini be given more credit than he is?
City’s Premier League campaign has been bad, there’s no denying that. In the power vacuum that Chelsea left vacated, City were the logical choice to fill the void. Injuries and poor transfer business has played a large role in that fall, but Pellegrini has been getting slighted too. First, it was his insistence on 4-4-2, which left City’s midfield exposed when Yaya Toure regressed even slightly. He adjusted to a 4-2-3-1, but the litany of injuries City have had to deal with this season derailed whatever title challenge they had. Now, they are trying to stay afloat in the league while they run deeper into the Champions League than they ever have before. And, both fronts are looking up.
Most of that recent upturn in form has to do with the return of Kevin De Bruyne, who might have been the PFA Player of the Year if he stayed healthy. His impact on the PSG tie beyond his two goals cannot be understated, and he papers over quite a few of the cracks that exist in the squad. Sure Pellegrini can’t be given all of the credit for simply giving De Bruyne the keys to the Ferrari, but his ability to keep his team afloat while he was out, even though his squad should be deeper than it is cannot be understated either.
While the expectations are always going to be title or bust at the Etihad, in the absence of that, Pellegrini has steered an aging, broken and miscast squad to a League Cup win as well as the Champions League semifinals, which no English team has been even close to sniffing the last pair of seasons. And it says something about Pellegrini the manager that while the narrative of his last season is total disaster, the on-pitch results show something a little bit different. This is not to say that this campaign has been a runaway success because it clearly hasn’t, but he’s picked up the pieces of what could have been a disaster and turned it into something more palatable.
At the very least, he’s won another trophy, steered City into Champions League qualification for next season and pushed City into the Champions League semis this year, all while the broken transfer policies above him are pushed further into the light. There is still a chance City finish above Arsenal (albeit quite small) and go further in the Champions League, by which Pellegrini’s legacy would grow even more complicated. How could such a disaster of a season end with positives like a trophy and a Champions League semifinal appearance? Chelsea won the Champions League when they finished sixth. Anything is possible.
Manuel Pellegrini holds a reputation of sometimes being tactically aloof, reluctant to play youngsters and not doing quite as much as he could have or possibly should have with the resources at his disposal. But he’ll leave City with three trophies in three seasons, the basis for which any future City success will be built on, and having taken City progressively further in the Champions League every year. While it’s not what Pep might do, or what anyone may have expected he’d do, Pellegrini deserves some credit for preventing outright disaster this season, and turning what would have been a terrible negative into a marginal positive on his way out the door.
All things considered, what he’s done as a lame duck is quite impressive.
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