Positive Pellegrini poised to win Premier League title his way

Manchester City have stayed calm and kept their focus inward under the placid Chilean
Manchester City fans fly a flag for Manuel Pellegrini during the Premier League match against Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on May 7, 2014. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Manchester City fans fly a flag for Manuel Pellegrini during the Premier League match against Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on May 7, 2014. Michael Regan / Getty Images

MANCHESTER // Comparisons with 2012 are inevitable for Manchester City, and when they overcame Aston Villa on Wednesday, it was hard not to cast thoughts back two years.

Then, as they beat Newcastle United in the penultimate game, a radio commentator, realising they were closing in on both the title and the trophy, contrived to combine both and declared: “City have one hand on the trifle.”

Two years on, Manuel Pellegrini is having his cake and eating it. He is winning the title and gorging on goals. He is triumphing his way, and despite the Chilean’s austere exterior, it involves excessive levels of attack-minded players and emphatic, exciting victories.

Only one point is required to rubber-stamp City’s triumph. Four more goals will establish City, who have already recorded a century, as the most prolific team in the English top flight for half a century.

A first league title in Europe promises to be a reward for Pellegrini, for his patience and his positive football, for his high-minded ideals and low-profile approach. He made a conscious decision to be calm as a manager, but the quiet man sees a moral dimension to City’s probable triumph.

There are ways to win, he tends to say, and none are wrong, but he prefers his methods.

“I choose this way,” he said.

He does not directly denigrate those who prosper with defensive football but states how much he enjoys an attractive style of play. He applauds Liverpool, who only need one goal to join City in the elite 100-goals club, while opting not to mention Chelsea.

He is careful not to criticise Jose Mourinho publicly but makes a point of praising Arsene Wenger, who never pretended his Arsenal side were not in the title race. Pellegrini’s argument is that major clubs should not try to deflect pressure, that it is incumbent upon them to accept it if they have a realistic chance of challenging.

Until Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa, Pellegrini had never proclaimed his side the favourites. Yet neither, for the most part, did he deem them underdogs. It is a consequence of Pellegrini’s dislike of the comparative element of football analysis. He likes to focus on his own side.

Theirs is a proactive brand of football. They are rarely configured with opponents in mind. Their aim is simply to score.

“We always try to play as a creative team,” Pellegrini said. “We have creative players.”

That would include Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri, while David Silva, Stevan Jovetic and Sergio Aguero “are technical players and we try to give them the ball as much as we can.”

There is obstinacy about his ideals. Pellegrini has only belatedly accepted that City’s away performances at the start of the season were poor. Now he knows they were teething troubles. He always argued that setbacks did not change his philosophy. City may switch between 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, but the ethos is a constant.

So, too, is the sight of the ball nestling in opponents’ nets. City have struck 154 times in all competitions. A quartet of players have a century between them: Aguero (28), Edin Dzeko (26), Toure (24) and Alvaro Negredo (23) have blazed a trail to goal. Each can testify to Pellegrini’s impact.

Negredo, whom he sold at Real Madrid, was his choice. He believes Aguero is the third-best player on the planet. Toure has been transformed into a greater goal threat, allowed to maraud forward with freedom, chosen to take penalties and free kicks and was named the vice-captain. Dzeko, seemingly on his way out of the Etihad Stadium last summer, has been revitalised.

Nasri, too, is enjoying a renaissance. It is not the Pellegrini way to cast aside a gifted attacker. The sceptics argued it was not the Pellegrini way to actually secure silverware. His Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga teams were watchable, but not winners of trophies.

This City side, aesthetic and artistic, prolific and potent, should end the season with two. It is no trifling matter.


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Published: May 10, 2014 04:00 AM


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