Manchester City’s penalty shoot-out victory against Liverpool means that Manuel Pellegrini will finish his time at the Etihad with at least one trophy during every season he has been in charge. Despite some questionable performances and tactics, particularly in Europe, it’s a record that cannot be argued with, particularly with competition at the top of the English game greater than it has ever been before.
This season, whilst Leicester and Spurs have shocked the watching world, Chelsea have crumbled after winning the title last season whilst Manchester United have stuttered despite spending hundreds of millions under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal in recent seasons. City though, have maintained an interest in the title race throughout though despite suffering injuries to three of their most influential players – Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva.
Until a couple of weeks ago, City still faced the opportunity of winning an unprecedented quadruple. Then, the club announced Pep Guardiola would be arriving in the summer and the side have promptly lost three successive league games to Leicester Spurs and Liverpool with Pellegrini deciding he had bigger fish to fry than the FA Cup. Coincidence? Possibly. But probably not.
It is distinctly possible the Chilean would have selected the same team against Chelsea even if he was expecting to be in Manchester next season but with the knowledge that this wasn’t going to be the case, Pellegrini’s decision was made simple. He could focus on getting as far as possible in the Champions League to impress potential European suitors and also the Capital One Cup Final where the club were just one game away from lifting the trophy rather than the four in FA Cup.
Despite the criticism following the Chelsea defeat, few could argue with Pellegrini’s decision now, as a comprehensive victory in Kiev meant City already have one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals and that penalty shoot-out victory against Liverpool putting another trophy on the mantelpiece. Pellegrini blamed fatigue for the limp performance in the league defeat at Anfield three days later and whatever your opinion on that particular subject an extra 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge would only have made things worse.
It’s easy to undermine Pellegrini’s achievements by simply arguing that he has the most expensively assembled squad in the league. However, whilst money is undoubtedly an advantage, it isn’t a guaranteed ticket to success. Real Madrid provide the perfect example of this with the Bernabéu outfit the most renowned in the world for splashing the cash but having to wait 12 years for their 10th European trophy in 2014. They have won La Liga just once in the last 7 seasons, the same number that city rivals Atletico have managed on just a fraction of the budget.
Defensive frailties have undermined Pellegrini’s time at City with Vincent Kompany hugely missed whenever he is injured. However, the Citizens have been title challengers in all three of Pellegrini’s seasons and with the boost of the League Cup victory behind them they can’t be ruled out of this year’s race either despite an eighth league defeat coming at Anfield, more than would normally be expected for the champions.
English talent often gets wasted at City but Pellegrini has signed and trusted Raheem Sterling, one of the country’s most promising talents. He has also give youth a chance in the form of Kelechi Iheanacho with numerous more getting a run out in the Stamford Bridge FA Cup tie. It’s typical of football that Pellegrini can’t win either way with team selection but whilst he may not reap the rewards, Pep Guardiola and the players certainly will. Despite their struggles this season and recent successes in the Youth Cup, Chelsea have still been loathed to put faith in their youngsters both with Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink at the helm.
Pellegrini has also faced tough competition from many of the other teams in the Premier League. Gone are the days of the top 4 being a closed shop with Leicester’s incredible run this season adding to the Chilean’s complications. Every team in the league has more money resulting in a greater strength in depth. A few injuries to key players, as City seem to suffer more than most, means the chance of dropping points is heightened.
Since the Chilean arrived at the Etihad in the summer of 2013, City have won more trophies than any other side with Chelsea and Arsenal the only others to enjoy success. An Arsenal Premier League-FA Cup double this season will be the only way a team will win more trophies than Pellegrini’s Manchester City, a possible but unlikely outcome.
As the Chilean enters his final few months in the English game (presumably) maybe it’s time we appreciated his achievements with City and the dignity with which he has carried out his work throughout. Pep Guardiola will have a tougher ask to follow than many may imagine.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Ronnie Macdonald.