Debate: Pellegrini’s Champions League experience is key to Manchester City avoiding group stage disaster… again

By Dan Windham

Manchester City fans may well be thanking lady luck for a kind Champions League draw but new manager Manuel Pellegrini’s experience will still be the vital element to send City through safely.

While an easier group, a happier camp and a whole host of world class players at your fingertips gives any team a great chance in the Champions League, experience is what sets the good teams apart from the best.

Manchester City yesterday avoided a dreaded ‘group of death’ at the Champions League draw in Monaco, eventually being drawn against Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Victoria Plzen.

While not straightforward, the Blues will fancy their chances over previous years, after being drawn against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajex last year and Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal the year before.

Despite having a squad that rivalled any of their competitors, City have only managed three wins out of a possible twelve games, crashing out of the group stage on both occasions.

Yes, once again they’ve bolstered their squad, but it’s the experience of new manager Pellegrini that should give Manchester City the experience to finally make it through to the last 16.

Whilst some considered it harsh that Roberto Mancini was axed from his post at Manchester City a year on from winning the Premier League, it was his naivety in the Champions League that eventually cost him his job.

His first bite at Champions League football with Lazio proved a baptism of fire as the Italian team finished bottom of their group with only one win under his leadership.

Mancini left at the end of the season, moving to Inter Milan and guiding them to the quarter finals of the Champions League while, impressively, remaining unbeaten throughout the group stage and disposing of defending champions Porto in the round of 16.

However, the Italian couldn’t build on this success, tamely losing out to Villareal in the quarter finals the next year and falling short in the round of sixteen the next two years.

Thus, the Italian arrived at Eastlands in 2010 with a somewhat questionable record in the Champions League, with only a 53% win rate from 36 matches at Inter Milan.

His naivety and inexperience was exposed on the European stage once again as his side consistently conceded cheap goals throughout the competition and his three man defensive tactic was torn to pieces by quality European opposition.

Enter Señor Pellegrini.

His Champions League record and experienced tactical nuances are just what Manchester City need to take them past the group stages of the tournament this time around.

In 2006, the Chilean guided Villereal to the semi finals of the illustrious competition with a tactical masterpiece, utilising Marcos Senna and Jeremy Toulalon perfectly as defensive midfielders.

The pair were propelled to stardom for this role after Pellegrini instructed them to defend deep when they didn’t have the ball and cover the wings for the full backs who had pushed forward.

Pellegrini proved this wasn’t just a one off stroke of luck by repeating the miraculous feat at Malaga, where, once again, his experience and understanding of the game enabled the unfancied Spanish side into the quarter finals.

By instructing his central midfielders to move out wide, along with the full backs, his forwards found themselves with an abundance of support upfront, forming neat triangles to quickly pass the ball around until an opening was eventually created.

The likes of Fernandinho, Jovetic, Jesus Navas and Negredo already give Manchester City a far superior chance of progressing from the group in place of CSKA Moscow or Victoria Plzen, but they need to be utilised correctly. 

Pellegrini has the experience to set his new Manchester City team up in a much more tactically sophisticated manner against the stalwarts of European football, like Bayern Munich.

For all his good work at Manchester City, this is where Roberto Mancini failed.

His tactics were naive and Manchester City’s defending suffered as a result, leaking cheap goals at important times, eventually costing them their place in the round of sixteen and Mancini his job.

City’s new man at the helm will do well not to follow suit.

Image courtesy of MCFCTV via YouTube, with thanks.

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