Manchester City’s rise in prowess in recent years coincided with Roberto Mancini’s appointment at the Etihad. Three trophies, including an FA Cup and that now infamous Premier League title, represented success on the domestic front for the blue half of Manchester. What failed to follow, however, is progression on the continent.
Two appearances in the Champions League group stages failed to materialise any further, with Mancini’s side dropping out at the earliest stage of the competition proper. Leniency was granted on the first occasion due to a very challenging group (as well as the Premier League success), but the second European journey, albeit with an even more difficult set of opponents, produced a set of almost embarrassing and lacklustre displays. Combined with an uninspiring attempt to retain the league title last season, this failure resulted in Mancini being shown the door.
Mancini is somewhat notorious for his naivety and failure in continental competitions – the furthest he’s reached is the quarter-finals in six attempts as a manager. Manuel Pellegrini (the Italian’s replacement) on the other hand has developed a more positive reputation. Spells in La Liga at Villarreal and Malaga, two clubs who have rarely enjoyed a European adventure before, saw him reach the semi-finals (in 2006) and the quarter-finals (in 2013) respectively – both of which were ended in rather unlucky and dramatic circumstances. His brief spell at Real Madrid (2009-2010) failed to live up to this record, with Los Blancos only reaching the round of sixteen in his solitary season, but this can be seen as a blip in an otherwise excellent record.
Manuel Pellegrini on his time at Real Madrid under Florentino Pérez – “Real Madrid have the best guitarists, but if I ask them to play the piano they won’t be able to do it so well. He (Pérez) sold players that I considered important. We didn’t win the Champions League because we didn’t have a squad properly structured to be able to win it.”
Pellegrini’s greater tactical understanding and his fantastic European record (in comparison to Roberto Mancini) should hold Man City in good stead for their upcoming continental adventure. Some top class additions from abroad, including two players who have performed impressively in Europe previously – Stefan Jovetic and Fernandinho – have added yet more quality in depth to an already gem-filled squad. Fernandinho could form a highly impressive partnership with Yaya Touré in the double-pivot if the early signs are to be believed, with him capable of providing even more energy, power and a further threat from deep. The aforementioned Jovetic, as well as the former Sevilla duo of Jesús Navas and Álvaro Negredo, add additional firepower to the team – something which was missed during the previous campaign.
The early signs under the Chilean manager are of a high tempo game, on and off the ball. Organised pressing, fast transitions and cohesive interchanging within the attack will make them an extremely difficult side to cope with for even the best of teams at this level.
If Pellegrini can get the best out of his new signings, as well as the players who were already there of course, then Man City could well be in place to finally make an assault on Europe’s elite. The blue moon is rising once more – but this time on Europe.