Manchester City came back to avoid complete embarrassment against Sunderland, getting help from Vito Mannone to register the late goal that allowed it to salvage a 2-2 draw against the league’s last place team. For the five previous minutes, however, the Citizens looked destined to complete their remarkable come from ahead loss with the teams’ two biggest weapons on the bench. Why weren’t Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo on the field?
The team was already missing arguably it’s two most valuable players. Yaya Touré is out after suffering an injury this weekend at Anfield, while David Silva failed to make Manuel Pellegrini’s 18. Early in the second half, up 1-0, the City boss pulled Agüero. By the 69th minute, Negredo had given way to Edin Dzeko. Why, with a one-goal lead and a suspect defense, was Pellegrini pulling off his most capable goal scorers?
There may be reasonable excuses for each move. Early in the second half, Wes Brown put the bottom of his shoe into Agüero’s ankle. Maybe, with a one-goal lead, the Argentine was being removed as a precaution. As for Negredo’s substitution, it’s unclear the Spaniard really is a more capable goal scorer then Dzeko. Negredo is averaging a league goal ever 193 minutes. Dzeko scores every 141. Though there may be reasons for that (level of competition they’re selected against), implying Negredo is more capable than Dzeko may be an exaggeration.
Still, there was an air of arrogance in the circumstances around the move, one heightened by the fact Dzeko wasn’t the first man off the bench. Instead, it was Stevan Jovetic – a talented player who has failed to make an impact this season in Manchester. A versatile Montenegrin capable of playing in support of a lead striker, Jovetic could be seen as a slightly conservative, more possession-based move. He certainly is not as dangerous as Sergio Agüero.
That Dzeko was the next move gave the changes a conservative feel – of using the one-goal lead as reason to pull the starters. Given the lack of intensity the team had showed since their second minute opener, the plan made sense. At least, it was consistent. There was never a push to get that second, game-sealing goal.
After the match, NBCSN studio analyst Robbie Mustoe speculated this could be the result of Pellegrini’s inexperience in England – underestimating the dangers present in the teams at the bottom of the table. This could also be a tactical issue, with Pellegrini failing to instill a more aggressive approach. It could also be about preparation or failures in managing the squad. If fatigue or rest was a consideration in bringing on Jovetic for Agüero, Pellegrini may have poorly evaluated risks and rewards.
Regardless, there are a number of questions that can be asked of Pellegrini, who faces a harsh bottom line tonight. In a game his team should have approached with the urgency of a must-win, the more talented side, playing at home, against a team riding a five-match losing streak needed some late fortune to salvage a point.
For skeptics who’ve spent all season noting Pellegrini never won a major European title, the Sunderland result provides new fuel. Like his players, Pellegrini has plenty of questions to answer after Wednesday’s disappointment.