Comment: Premier League success would put Pellegrini above Mourinho and co in managerial melee

Manuel Pellegrini may not have the charisma of Jose Mourinho, the dynamism of Brendan Rodgers or the charm of Roberto Martinez.

But if the Chilean can oversee two Manchester City victories this week he will have outperformed all three of his top flight rivals. By some way.

Although there have been some troughs as well as peaks to City’s season, as the final week gets underway it seems increasingly likely that they will end the campaign at the summit of the Premier League.

Pellegrini’s role in this cannot be understated especially when City’s position a year ago under Roberto Mancini is considered.

In May 2013, the Blues were defeated in the FA Cup final by lowly Wigan Athletic, finished 11 points behind champions Manchester United and scored 66 league goals.

With two conspicuously winnable looking home matches against Aston Villa and West Ham United to play, City have already scored 96 league goals, have a trophy in the cabinet and the league title within their grasp.

Improvements in style and in substance since the arrival of Pellegrini have been immediately apparent as the Citizens have picked up wins playing with a fluidity that was missing from their game all too often last season under Mancini.

Many will point to the riches Pellegrini has available to him and say the league and a cup would be the minimum requirement , but handling big talents and coping with the expectation of victory is no easy task – just ask David Moyes.

Upon arrival at the Etihad Stadium, Pellegrini was given the most demanding of briefs: win matches in style, take the club forward in Europe, improve the squad, get more out of the current players and win a few trophies while you are at it.

So has he won matches in style? Undoubtedly.

The breath-taking attacking football Liverpool have played in recent weeks has rightly received plaudits, but in the first half of the season it was City who were the league’s great entertainers putting six past Spurs, four past city rivals Manchester United, seven past Norwich – even hitting the early pace-setters Arsenal for six back in December.

The fact that the Blues have a better goal difference than Liverpool – a team whose two strikers alone have fired 50 league goals – is testament to the offensive, expressive brand of football Pellegrini has instilled in City following the cagey-approach of previous boss Mancini.

Maximising the abilities of his existing players has also proven to be well within Pellegrini’s skill set. The Chilean’s arrival has transformed Samir Nasri from a multi-million pound spare part into a key creative force in the Blues’ attack.

The Frenchman’s sublime goal in the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland was probably his finest moment this season but it was his late equaliser against the Black Cats last month, albeit courtesy of a goalkeeping error from Vito Mannone, that may prove the most crucial.

Aleksandar Kolarov scored a vital late equaliser in a score draw with the Wearside club at Eastlands in the spring of 2012, with City going on to win the title on goal difference that season.

It seems increasingly likely that Nasri’s goal in the equivalent encounter this term will have comparable significance.

Even Nasri’s part in the Blues’ third goal at Everton on Saturday was the mark of a changed player, whether the former Arsenal midfielder would have had the same tenacity and determination not to give up the ball a year ago, under the challenge of John Stones, seems questionable.

After shrugging off the Everton defender’s attention, Nasri interchanged passes with Fernandinho before providing the cross which the predatory Edin Dzeko converted, another goal which City will look back on as crucial should they win the league.

Another player who proved invaluable at Goodison Park was Joe Hart and Pellegrini’s effective management of him this season should also be acknowledged.

In the autumn, the England goalkeeper’s fragile confidence was there for all to see with every ill-conceived rush from his goal-line that he made.

Pellegrini wisely took Hart out of the firing line at a time when City’s attacking prowess was so plentiful that the obvious limitations of number two Costel Pantilimon as a goalkeeper would not be exposed, restoring the England stopper once the wounds of his high-profile mistakes had healed.

At Everton, Hart was reproducing the sort of form that once saw him hailed as one of the top goalkeepers in the world and helped City hang on to an essential three points.

While improving existing players is commendable, managers are often severely scrutinised for the players they recruit at a football club, another area where Pellegrini has delivered.

Many will again point to Sheikh Mansour’s riches and argue it is not difficult to bring in quality players with such resources.

However, having money is one thing, spending it wisely is quite another. Once again see the case of Moyes.

Each one of Pellegrini’s signings has enhanced the team this season, admittedly to varying extents.

Topping that list is, of course, Fernandinho. With Gareth Barry ageing and Jack Rodwell struggling to fill the void, Pellegrini’s first aim was to scope out a partner for Yaya Toure in central midfield.

Marrying creativity with solidity and power with proficiency in possession, the Brazilian has been the perfect foil for Toure, enabling the Ivorian to get forward with more regularity, safe in the knowledge that all is well behind him.

Toure needs just one strike to become only the second Blues player in Premier League history to score 20 goals in a season, a feat that would have certainly been less achievable without Fernandinho’s presence.

The presence of Alvaro Negredo has diminished somewhat as the season has worn on but in the first half of the season the Spaniard formed a devastating partnership with Sergio Aguero – 23 goals is hardly an underwhelming tally for his maiden season in English football.

Negredo’s countryman and fellow summer signing Jesus Navas has also contributed, sporadically perhaps, but his willingness to hold his position on the wing not to mention his searing pace down the right flank has added variation to the Blues’ attack this season.

Even Martin Demichelis, a joke-figure for much of the campaign, has come good in recent matches.

Although Pellegrini’s reasons for selecting Demichelis have always been clear – he can manipulate a football far more adeptly than Lescott – after a series of unconvincing displays it seemed inevitable that the Argentine would be ditched.

Or not. Pellegrini has remained loyal to the former Malaga centre-back and has been rewarded with some excellent defensive performances of late – not least against Liverpool where, despite City’s defeat, Demichelis did as good a job of shackling Luis Suarez as any defender has managed this season.

With the Capital One Cup already in the bag and having advanced City out of the Champions League group stages for the first time, the league title would cap a near flawless first season for Pellegrini.

The one blot on the Chilean’s record is the FA Cup defeat to Wigan, which means there are still question marks over whether his side have the steadiness of nerve required to see their title push through.

Saturday’s victory over Everton was by no means the Citizens’ classiest but it was a perhaps the biggest indicator yet that they have, as Pellegrini might say, ‘the cojones’ needed to win the league.

Of course, Pellegrini has not yet passed the ultimate test of nerves as he must steward his side to victory against claret-and-blue duo Villa and West Ham.

But should he manage that, although he may not have out-talked Mourinho and Rodgers this season, Pellegrini will have certainly out-manoeuvred them.

Image courtesy of Alex Morton/Action Images, with thanks

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