Manchester City’s love affair with the Champions League continues this season, and one should expect changes with the Citizens’ approach to the competition.
Newly appointed manager Manuel Pellegrini will have his eyes set on a good start to the Premier League, but it’s in the Champions League where his and his players’ performances will be dissected. Similar to Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Manchester City’s cash-laden owners demand success in Europe’s premier club competition.
It won’t be easy, as the Citizens look set to face another tough group.
Pellegrini has a great track record with smaller clubs in the competition but only reached the round of 16 with Real Madrid. His first task will be to get the club out of the group stage, though, as they have yet to do so in the past two seasons.
Pellegrini’s arrival—as well as the introduction of Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo—should make that possible, but here are five changes Manchester City must make to challenge in the Champions League.
Trust the Manager
Despite bringing in an FA Cup and the Premier League title during his time at the club, Roberto Mancini was never really given full reign by the Manchester City hierarchy.
That’s usually the case when a club owner is as wealthy as City’s. Mancini didn’t make it easy for himself, though.
His history in the Champions League didn’t help, having failed to make any significant headway with Inter, though he did take Lazio to the semi-finals of the then-UEFA Cup back in the 2002/03 season.
In Pellegrini, Manchester City has a manager who has worked at arguably the most pressure-filled position in club football—at Real Madrid if you were wondering—and could have achieved great things were it not for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side. What’s even more impressive is his work at Villarreal and Malaga, as he took both of those sides to heady heights in the Champions League.
The Manchester City hierarchy will need to put their faith in Pellegrini. He has shown an ability to get the best out of teams with less quality than City’s in the past, and he can do just that with City.
Change the Expectations
Given the money injected into the club during the past few seasons, it’s no surprise that those in charge at City, and the fans even, would expect the club to win the Champions League. While that isn’t an impossible goal by any means, it puts an inordinate amount of pressure on those assigned with the task.
Former Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez alluded to that fact while speaking to CNN:
“Yes, there was way too much pressure. It came from everyone — the club, the fans. I think that too much pressure just hurts the team.
“What happened was that there so much hype and pressure to be one of the giants of Europe and we didn’t do it.
“We dropped out in the first round of the Champions League on both occasions.”
Chelsea is a prime example that money doesn’t turn a club into European giants immediately. It took the club nine seasons to finally win the trophy with the Russian billionaire in charge.
The expectations shouldn’t revolve around winning the tournament every time during the first few seasons. Even reaching the final or semi-final may be too much to ask. As a group, this Manchester City side still doesn’t possess the experience or reputation of a Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Manchester United.
Getting out of the group stage should be the club’s focus to start, as the knockout rounds present a much different task—one that Pellegrini has shown he can handle quite well.
In 12 Champions League games during the past two seasons, Manchester City scored 16 goals and conceded 17. It’s fair to say there were issues on both ends of the pitch during City’s two recent seasons in Europe.
Pellegrini has been brought in to fix that. The Chilean manager has shown a remarkable ability to set up a team in the best sense tactically and get the best out of it as a result.
Villarreal and Malaga’s achievements are great examples of that fact, with Malaga’s tactical game plan over the two legs against Porto in their Champions League tie standing out.
Pellegrini’s teams have showcased, width, inverted wingers, two forwards, attacking full-backs and tough-nosed defenders.
His tactical flexibility will enable City to have a much better chance of success this time around.
Another problem the side had during its Champions League encounters was squad selection. Despite possessing some great talent, Roberto Mancini’s decisions at times were questionable.
The idea of starting Maicon and Gareth Barry against Real Madrid in their first game last season certainly stands out. The Brazilian right-back was no match for Cristiano Ronaldo and was eventually hauled off, while Barry could do little against the Madrid midfield.
It’s safe to say that Pellegrini won’t make such decisions.
Despite all his tactical variations, he utilized players in the best possible manner to allow success. Players like Juan Roman Riquelme, Martin Demichelis, Santi Cazorla, Diego Forlan, Joan Capdevila, Isco and countless others put in top-notch performances for Pellegrini.
Edin Dzeko’s form in preseason suggests that Pellegrini will continue that trend at Manchester City.
This change won’t be required only in the Champions League, but it’s a big one as far as the competition is concerned. In the past two seasons, team harmony—or a lack of it rather—has had a negative impact on Manchester City in Europe.
In 2011/12, it was Carlos Tevez not wanting to play against Bayern Munich, and then there was Roberto Mancini reacting harshly to Joe Hart after the opening game loss to Real Madrid. The volatile Mancini seemed to make no friends in the City dressing room, and that’s where he and Pellegrini will differ greatly.
The Chilean manager’s calm approach will be welcome in the City dressing room and should allow the players to focus on the pitch. Team harmony is one of the major issues that Pellegrini has to fix this season, and Manchester City will benefit greatly on those tense European nights should he succeed.