Manuel Pellegrini’s summer spending has tipped many to label Manchester City as favourites to win the Premier League in May.
Unlike last season, when most pundits wrongfully tipped them to win the title, now they have every reason to believe Pellegrini can guide City to the summit. Seeing as the side Pellegrini inherited boasted the best defensive record in the league over the past three seasons, the inclusions of Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas, has bolstered City’s attack and has given them the essential improvements that they lacked last season.
Another key component to these signings was the emphasis on natural balance in their shape and the variety of combinations available for Pellegrini to tinker with. We witnessed our first dose of Pellegrini’s philosophy in City’s convincing 4-0 win against Newcastle, Monday night. Fernandinho and Navas were included in Pellegrini’s starting 11, whereas Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko was selected over Negredo and the injured Jovetic.
Pellegrini aligned his side in a fluid 4-4-2, which at times looked like a 4-2-2-2 – the significance of this formation is the flexibility the side possesses and the balance in each attacking position.
Aguero and Dzeko caused the Newcastle back line several problems throughout the match. Dzeko often dropped into deeper positions to link play with the midfield, along with spreading several passes into wide areas. Meanwhile, Aguero was playing on the shoulder of the last man, looking to latch onto penetrating passes in the final third and long balls. Newcastle’s back line was uncertain whether to follow Dzeko or to stay deep and keep tight on Aguero, thus creating space in midfield for City’s attacking midfielders to penetrate.
City’s second goal demonstrated this perfectly – Vincent Kompany intercepted the ball in his third and drove forward to play a pass to Dzeko who dropped into midfield. The Bosnian striker cleverly back heeled a pass to Aguero, who made a diagonal run behind the last man, and the Argentinian striker stuck a well-placed shot past Tim Krul.
Although Dzeko didn’t add his name to the score sheet, the Bosnian striker was full of praise for the new City manager.
“The manager brings something different to us, he gives me confidence and that’s what I needed,” Dzeko said.
“I think we played a fantastic match, what the manager expects from us. We played the first game at home and we wanted to show the fans what we’re capable of,” he said.
That wasn’t the only involvement Dzeko had on the night, he played a vital role in David Silva’s opener, which also displayed the balance and flexibility Pellegrini’s side possessed. Silva often drifted centrally to retain possession, receive the ball between the lines, and look for gaps to exploit – and for City’s opening goal, Dzeko drifted out wide due to Silva’s movement. Dzeko maintained the width that the Spaniard provides, delivering a cross to Silva, who headed home the opener.
During Roberto Mancini’s tenure at City, the Manchester club lacked natural width, which is ironic considering their city rivals benefit off contribution from wide areas. Adam Johnson and Scott Sinclair all served unsuccessful spells at City due to Mancini’s reluctance on the use of wingers, which is why Pellegrini’s purchase of Navas was fascinating.
Navas had an exceptional game on the right flank, often mixing up his play but providing the balance City required. The Spaniard was keen on taking on defenders with his pace and producing well-timed crosses into the box, when getting to the byline, but he also drifted infield and attempted to overload the left flank, allowing Pablo Zabaleta to get into advanced positions. With Silva likely to drift infield, Navas’ inclusion in the squad gives City another element going forward – this prevents them from playing too narrow and gives them a direct alternative when attacking.
Lastly, the Yaya Toure – Fernandinho double-pivot looks destined to become the best midfield partnership in the league. City now possesses two quality players in the double-pivot, thus preventing an over-reliance on Toure, but also allowing him to break forward freely when in attack. There’s an understanding between the two, that when one breaks forward, the other sits deep, and this is why City was rarely caught out of position or exposed on the break against Newcastle. The duo was eager to win the ball back when they didn’t have possession, but were at their best when they had the ball – recording passing percentages over 90%, while controlling the tempo of the match with their dexterous passing
Negredo entered the match in the final 10 minutes, and was unfortunate not to nick his first City goal, as the linesman wrongfully awarded an offside call, when the Spaniard scored. With Jovetic still waiting to make his debut, City look to have made the additions needed to wrestle the Premier League title from Manchester United.
Pellegrini instilled a fluid system, that’s focused on covering space, strength in midfield and providing balance in their attack – and with the depth in attacking areas this season, the Chilean manager has an attacking variety capable of succeeding in the Premier League.