Manchester City have now failed to score or win in their last three games in all competitions – with the latest blank coming in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat in the Manchester Derby.
City were beaten thanks to a Marcus Rashford strike in the first half, meaning that United and West Ham are hot on their heels for the final Champions League place. It’s unfamiliar territory for City, who have been challenging for the league on a regular basis since 2011/12.
But quite frankly, they have not been anywhere near good enough this season – their performances in big games is evidence of that. City have not won back-to-back Premier League games since October and have claimed just one win against the top eight sides in the league, soundly beating Southampton in November. However, they have been beaten convincingly by Liverpool on two occasions while Leicester, West Ham, Stoke, Arsenal and Tottenham have all tasted success against the Blues.
It’s a strange predicament that the club finds themselves in. There have been a number of factors – Manuel Pellegrini’s naivety and tactical stubbornness, injuries to key men in their squad such as skipper Vincent Kompany, and a squad that has gone stale. It’s remarkable how predictable they have become when they would normally be swatting sides from all sides and all angles.
A fair chunk of that can be attributed to Pellegrini. The Chilean has made the same mistakes all season – playing Yaya Toure in a midfield two, showing faith in Martin Demichelis when it’s quite apparent that he’s well past his sell-by date, and failing to make the necessary tweaks when chasing the game. The loss to United was the latest example. Admittedly there were two forced changes with both Raheem Sterling and Joe Hart suffering injuries, but it was clear from the off that Demichelis was being given the run-around by Rashford, a player nearly half his age.
It would have been a better move to play the reliable Bacary Sagna at centre-back, with Pablo Zabaleta taking up the right-back spot. In addition to this, Pellegrini also opted to bring on striker Wilfried Bony instead of impressive youngster Kelechi Iheanacho. Kelechi is an incredibly gifted player who makes an impact whenever he enters the fray – nine goals this season demonstrates his qualities. But weirdly, Bony continues to get the nod when he struggles to assert himself and adapt to City’s way of playing.
There is a great danger that City could drop of out the Champions League next season. A tough tie with PSG awaits in the quarter-finals of this year’s competition and next season’s fate may well depend on how they fare in the current Champions League. West Ham and Manchester United are both just a point behind City and appear to have an easier run-in; City still have to travel to Chelsea and Southampton while they also host both Stoke and Arsenal – two sides who beat City in the reverse fixtures.
Fourth position should not be acceptable for Manchester City but that’s the way this season has gone. The only reason Pellegrini is still in a job is because Pep Guardiola is taking the reins in the summer. If that exciting news wouldn’t have been agreed, you would have expected Pellegrini to get the boot by now. After the derby, there was the usual knee-jerk reactions with many fans on social media believing that the Chilean should be axed and an interim manager assume first-team responsibilities.
To me, that makes no sense whatsoever. There’s no-one around who could slot in temporarily and guide the team to a strong finish. So for now, Pellegrini stays until the end of the season – no doubt he will be hoping that Samir Nasri, Kevin De Bruyne and Co can have an instant impact when they return from injury after the international break to save what could potentially be a disastrous season.
All is not bad though. City have claimed a piece of silverware in the Capital One Cup and they have the most precise and talented coach in world football coming in when the summer comes around. The signs are already there that Guardiola will look to rebuild a disjointed City side with an influx of younger, hungrier and more intelligent footballers. It’s no surprise to see the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Paul Pogba, Aymeric Laporte and Thiago Alcantara linked with City. And, of course, Guardiola is an advocate of youth so it’s exciting to see how he can fulfil the club’s aim of developing youngsters and ultimately building a squad that is brimming with home-grown talent.
To summarise, City have underperformed massively this season but a top four finish is all that is needed now before they can go again next season with Guardiola’s expert guidance.