Perhaps history wasn’t on the side of Manuel Pellegrini when he won Manchester City the Premier League title in his first season a year ago. In just 11 months City have gone from league champions to stumbling over the line in disarray, a decline that has borne striking similarities to the conclusion of the Roberto Mancini era back in 2013.
That year City finished in second, eleven points behind champions Manchester United but this time around, after defeat to their rivals in the red half of the city on Sunday, they lie in a battle to hold on to fourth. The stuttering form of 4 wins in their last 12 league games has seen City at risk of being chased down by Liverpool in the hunt for Champions League qualification and if they are edged out, manager Pellegrini is almost certain to go the same way as Mancini and pay with his job.
City’s owners, the Sheikh Mansour-fronted Abu Dhabi Group, may act sooner if the malaise continues and they fall in danger of finishing outside of the top 4 before the end of the season, with Patrick Vieira in contention for a temporary role. Currently coach of the Elite Development Squad, Vieira is being groomed to eventually earn the top job on a permanent basis as part of a long-term vision which Mansour is funding and chairman Khaldoon El-Mubarak, together with former Barcelona board members Ferran Soriano and Txixi Begiristain are trying to cultivate.
A continued fight with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations, which saw them obliged to pay a £16 million penalty to the governing body, was given a boost in December as they reported decreased losses and increase in revenues of £346.5 million. “Importantly, Manchester City is entering the next phase of its development with zero financial debt” said El-Mubarak at the time, not envisaging such a dramatic slump in the second half of this season.
Missing out on the Champions League, in which Pellegrini managed to direct City past the group stages for the first time last season, will be a huge setback to a club seeking to fund off-field projects as well as looking to rebuild the squad on it. City received £28.4 million in prize money from UEFA in this campaign following their elimination in the second round and missing out on such riches would be damaging to the club’s ambitions.
There is a recognition within the City hierarchy that missing out on Europe’s premier competition would present a major hurdle for Pellegrini or a replacement to attract the calibre of player needed to renovate a squad that, with an average of 28.9, is coming to end of its collective cycle. Again the shadow of Mancini hovers over Pellegrini and City with the now Inter Milan manager reportedly targeting Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure, both of whom have significantly lapsed in form this year, as well as James Milner who is out of contract in the close season.
Toure was rampant as City won the title last year scoring 20 goals, yet this year he has just 8 and his overall influence in games is well down. Stemming from his bizarre complaints last autumn about the club’s failure to recognise his birthday, Toure has often looked disinterested, earning sharp criticism after his listless performance in the Manchester derby.
The Ivorian’s lethargy has seemingly been contagious, spreading to other members of City’s squad a dereliction of defensive duties, betraying the often-simplistic and misguided criticisms of Pellegrini’s devotion to 4-4-2. It must be a grave concern that Wayne Rooney said United actively exploited City’s laziness in their victory on Sunday.
Toure, who is 32 this May, is one of ageing headline acts in City’s squad that has not been adequately replaced despite the vast sums spent on reinforcements. Since their first Premier League title win in 2012, £230.2 million has been outlaid on 18 players, of which only Jesus Navas, Fernandinho and Martin Demichelis remain as first-team regulars.
£22 million has seen Stevan Jovetic start just 11 league games in 2 seasons and omitted from the Champions League squad this season, Matija Nastasic and Javi Garcia were signed for a combined £27 million but both lasted just 2 years while Eliaquim Mangala, bought for an eye-watering £32 million from Porto in the summer, has been far short of the required standard. Fernando, the centre-midfielder who followed Mangala to the Etihad from Porto for £12 million, has also struggled to adapt.
The temporary deal for Frank Lampard and subsequent backtracking over his commitment to play for City’s American sister club New York FC in order to secure the 36 year old’s services for the whole season gives indication into a scattergun approach that has failed to inject fresh impetus into a squad that has grown stale and desperately in need of a revamp.
32 year old Bacary Sagna is said to be already considering his future just 9 months after arriving on a free from Arsenal, has only made sporadic appearances despite first choice right-back Pablo Zabaleta becoming one of the group to decline in form in Pellegrini’s second season. Only David Silva and Sergio Aguero, who have combined for 30 goals and 10 assists, have emerged from the campaign with credit for consistent performances.
Doubts have also gathered over the captain Vincent Kompany, the once embodiment of rock solid leadership at the back for both of City’s title wins, who was dropped for the recent win over Leicester following a series of mistakes that boiled to a head in a dressing room dispute with Fernandinho in the aftermath of the defeat at Liverpool.
Kompany is back in the side and wearing the armband once again, but to see his authority questioned for the first time in his City career has been one of the more significant elements of the club’s troubled season. With 34 goals conceded and 6 games remaining, it is no coincidence City are on course to ship more goals than they have in any of the last 5 seasons.
Kompany is unlikely to be part of the summer clear-out that looks to be on the horizon, but he will undoubtedly benefit from stiffer competition than Mangala. Maybe another central defender will be targeted in City’s planned summer spending spree which is reportedly looking at the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Ross Barkley in a refreshed transfer policy designed to prioritise a youth influx.
Whether Pellegrini will still be around to oversee it rests on the next 6 games, both of great importance to club and manager.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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