City boys filling their boots: It’s goals galore in the blue half of Manchester… they’ve knocked United off their perch as the Premier League’s great entertainers
To think there was a debate as to whether Manuel Pellegrini was the right man for Manchester City.
How long we wondered would it be before this mild mannered Chilean, who had enjoyed notable achievements with Villarreal and Malaga but was sacked by Real Madrid, would suffer the same fate at the Etihad Stadium.
But those thoughts have become a distant memory, as Pellegrini’s irresistible squad have taken the Premier League by storm, finally replacing United as Manchester’s headline act.
Mixed fortunes: City boss Manuel Pellegrini (left) looks content while United’s David Moyes feels the strain
City have now scored an incredible 92 goals in all competitions this season – incredibly just one less than they managed in the whole of the last campaign.
It seems Pellegrini has taken the shackles off. Here, remember, was a man who had had not won a league title outside of South America and whose only European success, if you can call it as much, was an Intertoto Cup with Villarreal.
Former City boss Roberto Mancini’s days were numbered after the shock FA Cup final defeat by Wigan and inside the boardroom, two influential figures were convinced Pellegrini was indeed the man that could take a club who had already spent millions to the next level.
Their chief executive, Ferran Soriano, and sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, knew all about Pellegrini. The two men who an integral role in bringing the glory days back to Barcelona had witnessed at first-hand what the man dubbed ‘The Engineer’, courtesy of his degree-level education, could do.
They had not forgotten how Pellegrini had taken Villarreal, a club from a one–horse town most famous for producing bathroom ceramics, to the brink of the Champions League final.
Demolition derby: Manchester City thumped local rival United 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier in the season
CITY GOALS THIS SEASON
Premier League: 57
Champions League: 18
League Cup: 16
FA Cup: 1
Community Shield: N/A
UNITED GOALS THIS SEASON
Premier League: 33
Champions League: 12
League Cup: 8
FA Cup: 1
Community Shield: 2
They remembered Pellegrini was the last manager to split the Barcelona and Real Madrid stranglehold at the top of La Liga while at the helm of the Yellow Submarine.
They overlooked the fact he suffered Copa del Rey humiliation at Real Madrid to lowly Alcorcon and had crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16 to Lyon. Instead they focused on Pellegrini steering Real to 96 points in the league, then their highest ever points haul, just three off title winners Barcelona – still in their Pep Guardiola-inspired pomp.
For Sorriano and Begiristain, Pellegrini was the man to bring some Latin flair to City rather than the Italian pragmatism of Mancini which, it had to be remembered, had delivered first the FA Cup and then the Barclays Premier League title but had floundered so spectacularly in Europe.
On the Champions League front, things are progressing nicely with City finally making it to the knockout stages with two games to spare and from a group containing current holders Bayern Munich.
On home soil, they are simply devastating. Wednesday night’s 6-0 drubbing of sorry West Ham took their tally to 59 from 15 games, maintaining their average of almost four goals a game at the Etihad.
Yes, West Ham were abject. But you can only play they side that is put in front of you and City did so to devastating effect with 32 shots, 11 on target and 76 per cent possession.
To date they have put four past Newcastle and Manchester United and Fulham, six past Spurs, Arsenal and now West Ham and seven past Norwich.
Such a cavalier approach has, of course, proved costly on the road. But at home, barring the defeat by Bayern which they later avenged in the Allianz Arena, they have won every game.
In the shade: Man United’s Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have not been as prolific as City’s hitmen
CITY TOP SCORERS (ALL COMPS)
1) Sergio Aguero (19)
2) Alvaro Negredo (18)
3) Yaya Toure (13)
4) Edin Dzeko (12)
5) Samir Nasri / David Silva (5)
UNITED TOP SCORERS (ALL COMPS)
1) Wayne Rooney (11)
2) Robin van Persie (10)
3) Danny Welbeck (8)
4) Javier Hernandez (5)
5) Adnan Januzaj / Patrice Evra (3)
As if their remarkable goal ratio was not enough to strike fear into the hearts of any visiting team, they have conceded just six in 10 home league games this season while their goal difference is 11 better than nearest challengers Liverpool – a statistic which may yet prove crucial in what is shaping up to be the most fiercely contested title battle for many a season.
There is a sense of calm about the place. Once the City dressing room was a place where stars cowered in anticipation of what public criticism lay in store in Mancini’s press conferences, now it is a scene of harmony as the players know Pellegrini will keep such admonishment in house.
Pellegrini appears to have the Midas touch when it comes to keeping such an array of talent, all eager to play, happy. And where Mancini’s abrasive style often got people’s backs up in the dressing room and beyond, the Chilean basically comes across as a nice bloke.
One need only examine the demeanour of Samir Nasri, not to mention the stunning performances he is putting in, to see how adept Pellegrini is when it comes to man management. Nasri has been transformed from a player who cost £24million only to be accused of playing at 50 per cent by Mancini, to one who is the match winner he once was at Arsenal.
Yaya Toure, off the boil last year, is again the unstoppable force he was when he first arrived from Barcelona. Remarkably, for a side blessed with such attacking verve, the Ivorian sits third in City’s scoring charts with 13 goals to his name, behind Sergio Aguero on 19, Alvaro Negredo on 18 and one ahead of Edin Dzeko.
At the back, after an alarming drop off in form last season, captain Vincent Kompany is return to the kind of form which made him one of the most coveted centre backs in Europe.
As for Pellegrini’s money no object purchases, selected in conjunction with Bergiristain and Soriano’s say so, some have fared better than others.
Defender Martin Demichelis has struggled while striker Stevan Jovetic has only featured five times due to injury and illness.
Jesus Navas, too has found adapting to the Premier League no mean feat, only showing in flashes the kind of speed and skill which once prompted none other than Zinedine Zidane to say it was like being passed by someone on a motorbike.
But defensive midfielder Fernandinho has taken to the game on these shores like a duck to water, an unqualified success only eclipsed by the performance of Negredo.
While a host of Premier League sides deliberated over splashing out for Negredo, City are to be applauded for finally taking the plunge on ‘The Beast’ by handing Sevilla £16million.
A striker perfectly suited to the Premier League if ever there was one and the perfect foil for Aguero, Negredo is already well on the way to earning the best buy of the summer crown.
On strike: Toure scores City’s third goal of the game on their way to the semi-final rout
Such hefty outlays on players since the arrival of Sheik Mansour perhaps preclude City from being ranked as everyone’s second favourite team (barring United fans, of course) in the mould of, say, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle.
Neutrals are tuning in to watch City play and for the club’s supporters these are heady days indeed.
They now watch a side full of flair, power, movement and goalscoring, one which is fast becoming one of the most feared on the planet – just ask Barcelona fans who groaned as City were pulled out of the Champions League hat or Jose Mourinho, the man who replaced Pellegrini at Real, who has long since tipped them for the Premier League title.
For moulding City’s array of talent into such a fluid force huge credit must go to Pellegrini. It must also go to those former stalwarts of the Barca boardroom, Sorriano and Bergiristain, for trusting their judgement that the Chilean was indeed the right man for the job.