Unsettled prior to taking the field at the Etihad Stadium, Newcastle proved an easier opponent than most expect. That they were already underdogs meant Manchester City, one of the Premier League’s favorites, were likely to roll over the Magpies tonight. And they did. The game proved a much easier debut than Manuel Pellegrini could have possibly expected.
Given how City played from the opening whistle, however, it’s impossible not to give the Citizens’ new manager a huge dose of credit. Each weekend we see good teams overwhelm bad ones, but it’s relatively rare that we see the sword swung from the opening moments. For every 7-0 shellacking Barcelona gives an opponent, you’ll see handful of dominant but less ruthless performances from teams like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Chelsea. But while creating four chances in the first six minutes, City began with an intensity that spoke to their preparation.
Still, attitude is only one facet of a team’s preparedness. Another is having a plan in place, and in the way City executed, there was no doubt you were watching a Manuel Pellegrini team. The formation — a fluid 4-4-2 using two interiores above the midfield’s sitting pair — was reminiscent of what Pellegrini’s used elsewhere, most successfully at Villarreal. Possession-based, though favoring opportunism over gratuitous ball-hogging, Manchester City’s architect would have been obvious had you missed his spring arrival.
Perhaps because they’re broadly based on a 4-4-2 system, Pellegrini’s ways produce a particular kind of balance, one that can manifest as the today’s dominance or the opportunism we saw last spring from Málaga. While pushing Borussia Dortmund to the brink in Champions League, Málaga weren’t afforded the same control City had today, but while maintaining a straight forward approach that helps ensure a confidence of movement and a certainty of position, the system is proved versatile. It has all the virtues Roy Hodgson espouses of his 4-4-2’s, yet augmented with elements of flexibility and style — allowing talented players more room to read and adjust to each others’ tendencies — Pellegrini’s approach product is more attractive. It’s also more likely to work with extremely talented, more ambitious teams.
This was why so many were high on Pellegrini’s move to Manchester – why former Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain were so keen to bring him from Málaga after Pep Guardiola chose Munich. His spells at Villarreal, Real Madrid, and Málaga never won leagues (as Roberto Mancini’s backers noted), but they were also never favored to do so. His accomplishments at those clubs (second place finish; second-highest all-time season points total; Champions League quarterfinal appearance), augmented by his titles in South America, are more than enough to justify Pellegrini’s support.
Ultimately, days like todays will do more to win over doubters than anything on Pellegrini’s CV. Those who didn’t want Mancini fired aren’t holding grudges, but when the inevitable down points of the season befall City, it will help to have them convinced. With a couple more performances like today’s, City fans will be soon be Pellegrini faithful.