He had a charming demeanour that we seldom see in his opposite numbers. He didn’t play mind games, but he let his players do the talking for him on the pitch. Looking at him, very few could relate to the style of football he wanted his team to play: an aggressive brand of football with a single-mindedness to score goals. His football philosophy was simple: entertain the fans by playing attacking and incisive football, and win titles in style.
Ladies and gentleman, he is none other than Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City’s manager from 2013-2016.
The Manuel Pellegrini era didn’t end in the way it began. In fact, the latter half of the 2015-16 season was obnoxious and City were poor in attacking as well as defensive senses. Even in his final game in-charge, against Swansea City, Pellegrini did not see his team play the way he has always ‘said’ he wants his teams to play. They scored a scrappy goal, through Kelechi Iheanacho, to take the lead, which they relinquished, as they did on so many occasions during the course of the season – in all competitions too.
When he reminisces his time at the Etihad Stadium, however, there were some unforgettable games that Pellegrini oversaw. This article lists five of them.
1) Manchester City 6 – 0 Tottenham Hotspur, Barclays Premier League, November 24th, 2013
This was one of the spectacles witnessed by the Etihad Stadium, after just five months into the Pellegrini era. City had lost 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, their bugbear till not-so-long ago, before the international break and Andre Villas-Boas’s men visited East Manchester on the weekend in which Premier League action resumed.
Hugo Lloris was picking the ball out of his goal… a mere 14 seconds after Howard Webb had blown his whistle to get the game underway. It was the Frenchman’s miskick that ultimately cost Spurs this goal, as Jesus Navas’ attempt – from his customary right-wing position – was inch-perfect to evade Lloris at the near post and sneak in at the back post.
Navas’ strike was the first of six scored by City on the evening. They played in a conventional 4-4-2 system which had Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero leading the line, with Samir Nasri, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Navas forming the midfield four. City were coruscating that evening and their attacks terrorised the Spurs side and their manager.
City were 3-0 up at half-time, but it was their hunger to attack and score more goals, which stood out and epitomised their manager. The Cityzens backed up their first-half performance by scoring another three goals in the second-half, during which they played mostly on the counterattack. Braces from Aguero and Navas, a wonderful on-the-turn goal from Negredo and a Sandro Raniere own-goal, gave City a thumping 6-0 victory over the North Londoners. Villas-Boas could not believe what he had witnessed and, in the post-match briefing, said: “we have to be ashamed of ourselves.”
The reason I say that this was one of the great games overseen by Pellegrini, is because of the way City began the game and then just kept on going till the final whistle. It was completely within Pellegrini’s ethos and what he stood for as a coach, who, on the basis of this game alone, was able to bring the best out of his players and got them to play according to his philosophy.
2) Manchester City 1 – 0 Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), 2015-16 UEFA Champions League (UCL) Quarter-Final Second-leg
April 12th, 2016 has to be regarded as the greatest Champions League night in Manchester City history till date. Up against PSG, who are on the same pedestal as City, Pellegrini’s side displayed verve, tactical nous and maturity to harness the two away goals they had scored in the first-leg and reach their first-ever Champions League semi-final. Kevin de Bruyne, the ‘crack’ Pellegrini talked about in March 2015, scored an absolute peach of a goal, from 20 yards out, while the tie was tantalisingly poised. Laurent Blanc’s men exited at the quarter-final stage of the competition for the third consecutive season and City, finally, delivered a great European performance that was long overdue from them.
The Parisians weren’t at their full strength throughout the tie, and their situation worsened when Thiago Motta pulled his hamstring towards the end of the first half in the second-leg. But City were in an unchartered territory and had to prove to themselves, if not anyone else, that they are capable of winning these types of games. So, it must have been of great satisfaction to them that they beat PSG to a place in the UCL semi-finals, in their very first attempt.
I regard this night and performance as one of the greatest of the Pellegrini era because of the way City setup and then executed their tactical plans to the letter. They pressed PSG high up the pitch, squeezing pace and strangulating Blanc’s men from playing their brand of football, which, at the time the draw was made, many felt would be too hot to handle for City. Again, the Ligue 1 champions were bereft of Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi, their most indispensable players who are critical to the playing style too. But this was ‘also’ about City and a litmus test of whether they can perform on such a big stage.
On so many occasions, people have lamented and lambasted Pellegrini for not thinking about City’s opponents and ways of stifling them, but on this night, he proved that he had another side to his philosophy.
3) Manchester City 4 – 1 Manchester United, Barclays Premier League, September 22nd, 2013
This display cannot be overlooked, given that Pellegrini was taking charge of his first-ever Manchester derby and so was David Moyes, the Chilean’s opposite number. And boy didn’t City obliterate United, very nearly to the level of the 1-6 thrashing at Old Trafford a couple of years ago. Their display exuded authority, penetration and swagger.
It was also one of those games which you can watch over and over again for the way City attacked the flanks and created openings. The first goal, scored by Aguero, came from a delicious cross swung in by Aleksandar Kolarov after Nasri had made a 20-30 yard run, held onto the ball and waited for the Serbian to make the run from left-back, and then laid the ball off for him. As aforementioned, Kolarov delivered it on a plate for the Argentine striker to make a decent connection and beat David de Gea. It was a great finish, mind you, but the whole move was flabbergasting, to say the least.
Similarly, the fourth goal of the evening came from the same flank but on the opposite side of the pitch. Vincent Kompany was at his buccaneering best as a centre-back, as he won his tackle on Ashley Young, bamboozled Marouane Fellaini with a step-over and then, with the outside of his right foot, passed the ball to Navas, who got on his bike. There was no stopping the Spaniard, while Kompany too continued his run after making the pass. Navas delivered a wonderfully flighted cross from the right-flank, that Nasri, who was unmarked in the box, volleyed past de Gea. Kompany went down on his knees and exulted near to the goal and facing the City fans, with his posture being one of the highlights of City’s 13/14 campaign.
It was an astonishing City performance engineered by Pellegrini at a very early stage of his time at the Etihad. Again, this game epitomised his philosophy and ideas, as City scored goals and showed an insatiable appetite to keep attacking their opponent. The fact that they were able to do this to United, who were on the receiving end of another imperious City display, must have made it all the more gratifying.
4) Tottenham Hotspur 0 – 1 Manchester City, Barclays Premier League, May 3rd, 2015
This result came towards the end of Pellegrini’s second season as the City manager. Like in the season that has just finished, City were fighting to secure Champions League football for the 15/16 season, after losing 4-2 to the Red Devils at Old Trafford in April. But the ‘Engineer’ masterminded a turnaround that saw the Cityzens go on a six-game winning run to finish second, behind Chelsea.
City’s performance was rather contrasting to Pellegrini’s philosophy and his penchant for stylish, attacking football. City had to be determined and grind out a result with just 46% of ball possession in the game. In other words, they had to defend for really long periods but, with Fernandinho and Fernando Reges shielding City’s back four, managed to carve out a 0-1 victory against Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Spurs were one of Pellegrini’s favourite opponents, against whom he had a 4-0 record after this result. The North Londoners did the double over City in the 15/16 Barclays Premier League season, doing so with quite dominant displays too, albeit some might argue that they were helped by plenty of refereeing gaffes.
Coming back to this game, Aguero, another City man who enjoys playing against Tottenham, scored a wonderful goal en route to bagging the golden boot. It was a lightning quick counter-attacking manoeuvre initiated by Joe Hart from a Spurs’ corner. David Silva picked up the ball distributed to him by England’s No. 1 and ran 40-50 yards before slipping it to Aguero, who ran into the channel, his run unseen by two Spurs defenders, and then beat Lloris at his near post with a clinical finish. The French goalkeeper hated coming up against City and Aguero, who struck fear in him with quality goals as much as anything else.
As aforementioned, it wasn’t delightful football City played, but they worked their socks off to secure all three points. They made a whopping 33 interceptions, 31 clearances and 20 blocks over 90 minutes, reminding you of the hard work they had to put in to come out with a victory. It was also one of the best away performances from City, under Pellegrini. Opponents found them difficult to beat at the Etihad, but when City played away from home in domestic competitions, they were relatively poor for the most part of Pellegrini’s reign. But this performance at White Hart Lane has to be regarded as one of the best.
5) AS Roma 0 – 2 Manchester City, UEFA Champions League, December 10th, 2014
It was a three-way battle between City, CSKA Moskva and Roma, to join Bayern Munich in the R-16 of the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League. City had accrued a mere two points from their first four group games, losing to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern on matchday 1, then drawing at home against Roma, relinquishing a two-goal lead at Arena Khimki and only drawing against the Russian champions, and losing to them in the return leg at the Etihad Stadium. They needed to win their final two games, against Bayern and Roma, to qualify for the first knockout round of the competition, for the second successive season.
Aguero scored a breathtaking hat-trick on matchday 5 against the Bundesliga champions, to keep City in the hunt. But that result did not alleviate City’s task, which was to go to Stadio Olimpico in Rome and win. Aguero suffered a knee ligament injury in a league fixture against Everton before City travelled to Rome and could not play a part. Yaya Toure was serving a two-game suspension for picking up a red card against Leonid Slutski’s side in City’s 1-2 defeat.
A couple of records were at stake for City and their coach, Pellegrini. Firstly, the Cityzens had never won in Italy in four attempts and Pellegrini had never been eliminated at the group stage of the Champions League. So, City were under pressure for more than one reason and also had to contend with the absences of Aguero and Toure while Silva could only make the bench.
But they had a conjurer in Nasri, the ever-industrious James Milner and the reliable midfield partnership of Fernandinho and Fernando, who, for the first time, showed that City could prosper in Europe without Y Toure. City were defensively solid for major parts in the game and carved out quite a few openings at the top-end of the pitch.
The former Arsenal attacking midfielder scored a delightful goal from outside the box in the second half, and then assisted Pablo Zabaleta’s game-clinching goal while the match was delicately poised. Pellegrini exulted in his technical area, having kept his record intact and leading City into the R-16 of the UCL for the second consecutive season. It is for these two reasons, and the fact that City broke their duck in Italy, this victory over Roma stands out as one of City’s great performances under their outgoing manager Pellegrini.
Pellegrini is proud of what he has achieved at City and the abovementioned results during his reign, are an evidence of why he is satisfied with the job he did with City from 2013. As mentioned at the very beginning, the latter half of what proved to be Pellegrini’s final season as City manager, was the one in which City underperformed massively and the Chilean too could not lift his team in the league. But overall, there were some very good moments during the season that has just finished and in which unprecedented feats were achieved too.