Manuel Pellegrini’s side have routinely struggled whenever they have come up against well organised, quality opposition, and there are a number of changes that can be made
Manchester City’s long-term goals are clear. With the best youth and training facilities in the country, close links to the big-money football boom in China and, of course, Pep Guardiola arriving this summer, you would have to say the future is looking bright.
But what happens in the short-term, the next weeks and months leading up to the end of the current campaign, is anybody’s guess.
Saturday’s 3-1 humbling at the hands of Leicester City put the failings of Manuel Pellegrini’s side into sharp focus. The Chilean will leave the club at the end of the season to make way for Guardiola, and the players have said they are committed to giving him a successful send-off.
But the shambles against Leicester was far from the first of the season, and if Pellegrini is to leave as the club’s most successful ever manager, he has some changes to make.
Guardiola’s arrival is genuinely exciting, but it will have to wait. Here’s what Pellegrini must do now.
It was far from City’s best display of the season, but it was certainly their most solid. The goalless draw against an admittedly toothless Manchester United back in October proved that Pellegrini can set a side up to defend.
Fernando was a key player that day, in probably his best performance of the season, as he sat in front of the defence mopping up loose balls and winning headers. Crucially, this allowed Nicolas Otamendi to stay in his defensive station, not coming flying out to lunge into tackles or aerial challenges. It was also Otamendi’s best performance of the season, and while that was next to Vincent Kompany (who was making his comeback from injury), Fernando’s performance allowed the Argentina centre-back to thrive in the manner he did at Valencia and with his country at the Copa America, namely with a deep-lying midfielder in front of him.
Otamendi’s wild forays up the pitch have caused City problems in recent weeks and, while he himself is guilty given his inclination to do so, he has not been helped by an open midfield – the most obvious example of which being when Ross Barkley scored in the League Cup semi-final second leg.
Fernando has certainly had some shockers of his own this season – notably at Stoke City – but they have largely come when Pellegrini has set his team up to attack, when perhaps a little more caution would be prudent.
A more reserved approach, with Fernando in the starting XI, would go a long way in certain games.
There is a more simple tweak that should improve City’s fortunes at the back. Bacary Sagna has played centre-back in the past and has done well in the role. The Frenchman has been one of City’s best players this season on the right of the back line but, with Pablo Zabaleta now back, he could be moved centrally to replace the increasingly creaky Martin Demichelis.
Vincent Kompany could return to the line-up in the coming weeks – most likely against Dynamo Kyiv towards the end of the month given a youthful team will play in the FA Cup fifth round – meaning Sagna may not need to be shuffled around too much.
But given the captain’s injury struggles he will surely not play every match until the end of the season, and with Mangala’s own injury problems dragging on, Sagna is a simple and effective option.
There is another selection issue that has been a hot topic of discussion for some time: dropping Yaya Toure. It was expected that the midfielder would be rotated in and out of the line-up this season, but up until the FA Cup started in January he has been picked whenever possible.
Having started to tire towards the end of the very first matches of the season, it is no surprise that he looks incapable of keeping pace with the opposition now after featuring in 34 of City’s 38 games so far, and starting 32 of those.
On Saturday he was at times pottering around the pitch no quicker than a pedestrian ushered across the road by a waiting car. But rather than a lack of effort – a barb most often fired in his direction – it may just be the case that he is no longer physically capable of running as much as a Premier League game demands.
Another case to support using Toure more sparingly – certainly a more flattering case – was the fact that he came off the bench against Crystal Palace recently and helped City seal victory with a marvellous cameo display.
With more games than ever coming up in the next few weeks, Pellegrini must surely realise that a more sparing role for his big midfielder is a necessity.