Lifting the Premier League title and Capital One Cup was just rewards for the level of quality Manchester City showed throughout the 2013/2014 season. Although they struggled to find their feet in the Champions League, Manuel Pellegrini’s side were considered strong favourites to retain their title and assert the dominance that Sheikh Mansour demands in return for his considerable investment in the club. However, Manchester City find themselves eight points behind runaway leaders Chelsea at the second international break of the season, with the team looking a shadow of their former selves. Exiting the Capital One Cup at the hands of a weakened Newcastle side and being on the verge of exiting the Champions League at the group stages for the second consecutive season is bad enough, but losing to West Ham and Stoke are inexcusable results for a team who hold high ambitions of being champions. Newcastle were backed to do well before the clash with Manchester City, but there are a number of reasons why Pellegrini finds himself under considerable pressure to hold onto his job just five months after lifting the title at the Etihad.
Yaya Toure’s mysterious loss of form
20 goals from midfield represent a wonderful achievement for any player, but Yaya Toure has become an integral part of the way Manchester City play. His considerable power and strength has been fundamental in City’s ability to control the game in midfield, with Toure also having the stamina to be effective in both boxes. The 31-year-old Ivorian could do no wrong last season, with fans being blown away by his bustling runs and top quality goals that were crucial in Manchester City beating Liverpool to the title. However, Toure looks a complete shadow of his former self, with all the drive and power replaced by a player who looks lethargic and unable to complete a simple pass to a team-mate. Much-publicised personal problems, in addition to the infamous birthday saga, may have something to do with his mysterious loss of form, but without Toure at his dynamic best, Pellegrini’s team are just not the same team.
While Manchester City may be carrying Yaya Toure through his ineffective spell, they are not helped by two defensive midfielders who have made poor starts to the season. Fernandinho set high standards following an excellent debut season in which he was able to break down attacks and distribute the ball forwards with minimal fuss, but this season has been a completely different story. The Brazilian midfielder constantly gives possession away cheaply through poor passing or complacency on the ball which is seized upon; his error against Tottenham which led to Christian Eriksen’s goal sums up his season so far. If that was not bad enough, summer signing Fernando has shown the same worrying knack of losing the ball as he struggles to adapt to life in England where time on the ball is much more limited than what he became used to for Porto. It seems little wonder that Manchester City continue to struggle to assert themselves in midfield, with opponents of the calibre of the Premier League and Champions League able to capitalise on the numerous mistakes Pellegrini’s side make.
Manchester City’s backline may not have received the praise they deserve for the superb strength in character and determination they showed in the latter stages of their title-winning season, but the manner in which they have conceded goals in the current campaign should ring alarm bells. Pellegrini cannot continue to rely on Sergio Aguero to win games for Manchester City, but even Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta cannot inspire the defence to remain water tight for 90 minutes. Summer signing Eliaquim Mangala has looked extremely nervous, while even the more experienced Martin Demichelis continues to give away naïve free-kicks and struggle to maintain his positional sense. Anxiety to win the ball may show a determination to win, but it also indicates a lack of composure and decision-making that is costing Manchester City dear.