There’s not doubt that, for the most part, Manuel Pellegrini has impressed since he took over in the summer. The attacking football which he is relentlessly committed to has been a thrill, and his decorum and handling of the media has made for a refreshing and welcome change after the end of the Roberto Mancini era threatened to descend into farce.
I like the players he signed in the summer and the speed with which did the business, meaning we were better prepared than every other top side come the first weekend of the season, and the run we had over December and January was the best I’ve witnessed as a City fan – the football beautiful; the results exceptional.
It all looked set to be a remarkable season, but since the win at Tottenham (one of our best displays under Pellegrini), we haven’t hit the heights. That I can live with. No one expected the form around Christmas to last forever. However, Sunday’s FA Cup defeat to Wigan brought to the fore some doubts regarding our manager that were first planted weeks earlier.
The rigidity Pellegrini showed in the home defeat to Bayern was brushed off easily. They’re the best club side in the world, so the fact that they passed us to death while our new manager looked on helplessly appeared understandable. Even his mathematical gaffe in the away match in Munich was largely ignored, by me and others. Hey, we’d won and qualified for the knock-out stages for the first time, nothing was going to bring me down from that.
But Sunday’s pathetic surrender to Wigan, where Pellegrini blatantly underestimated the opposition – the same side who beat us in the FA Cup final last May, no less – set alarm bells ringing. The FA Cup was a competition we had every chance of winning, and to meekly surrender in order to save a few legs for the trip to Barcelona, against a side remarkable at home and in possession of a two goal lead from the first leg, was crazy in my eyes.
The partnering of Demichelis and Lescott bordered on madness and City, in truth, got what they deserved. Uwe Rosler is tactically astute and took full advantage – expect him to get a big job one day in the not-too-distant future.
Demichelis is nowhere near the lame duck the media and some City fans would have you believe he his, but his reckless nature and tendency to play City into problems is glaringly obvious. Pellegrini’s steadfast refusal to drop him could well damage his own reputation in what is a bizarre and narrow-minded piece of favouritism.
A win against all the odds tonight would obviously eradicate my first feelings of doubt, but that seems unlikely. If, as expected, we wake up on Thursday morning out of Europe, only a title win will get some of the Pellegrini doubters back on side. I hope he does it because he’s a good man who tries to play football in the right way. If not, the growing band of Pellegrini sceptics, many of whom still harbour love for Mancini, may grow ever louder in their criticisms.
For the record, I’m still behind him and believe we can win the title, despite being three games and nine points behind. I just hope City play with freedom tonight. An early goal would make things very interesting…
Written by Rob Pollard