Six reasons for Manchester City's Premier League collapse
Manuel Pellegrini guides City against West Bromwich Albion on Monday night but they have dropped seven points from their last four Premier League games. Mark Ogden considers the reasons for City's demise
1. Too many overworked players
Manchester City have spent big money to build a squad with top-quality cover in every position, but Manuel Pellegrini has operated a two-tier approach this season, barely resting the likes of Yaya Touré, Fernandinho and Pablo Zabaleta at the same time as overlooking Joleon Lescott, Jack Rodwell and Micah Richards.
Injuries have tied Pellegrini’s hands at times, but his failure to rotate his squad sufficiently has left some players on the brink of exhaustion as they approach the final month of the campaign.
James Milner has been underemployed, starting just nine Premier League games, with Touré and Fernandinho starting 31 and 28 respectively.
Meanwhile, Lescott, Rodwell and Richards have mustered just 11 league starts between them.
Even in the cups, Pellegrini has rarely rested key players and, with City contesting 13 more fixtures than Liverpool this season, the draining effects of fighting on four fronts are beginning to tell.
2. Lack of January reinforcements
Although City tried to sign Porto pair Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala during the final 48 hours of the January transfer window, Pellegrini and Txiki Begiristain, the director of football, gave the market a wide berth at the turn of the year.
Having invested almost £100 million on new signings last summer the view within the club was that the squad were in place to challenge for the quadruple, which appeared a genuine possibility at that stage.
But Pellegrini and Begiristain clearly failed to spot the warning signs of injury and fatigue and City are counting the cost.
Reinforcements at centre half and right back would have appeared obvious areas for attention, with Pellegrini appearing not to rate Richards as cover for Zabaleta.
And despite the manager’s faith in Martin Demichelis, the Argentine’s lack of pace has been a recurring weakness and City should have pushed harder to secure the top-class centre half they continue to lack as a partner for Vincent Kompany.
3. Big mistakes in big games
Top clubs employ analytical experts to break seasons down into key moments and one common view is that a campaign of 60 games is decided by six games and two or three defining incidents within those fixtures.
For City, the dice has rolled against them in the most crucial encounters, with costly errors leading to match-winning goals for their opponents in defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool.
At Stamford Bridge, Joe Hart’s rush of blood when he raced out of his penalty area in stoppage time led to Fernando Torres scoring to seal a 2-1 Chelsea win.
And at Anfield on Sunday, Kompany’s misclearance fell to Philippe Coutinho 12 yards out and resulted in the Brazilian scoring the winner for Liverpool.
Those mistakes alone may ultimately cost City the title because they were committed at the worst possible time – against direct rivals when the point swing to their opponents is now evident in the league table.
4. Pellegrini cannot shed nearly-man tag
In the global game, there are some managers whose track record comes with a virtual guarantee of success.
Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti win trophies wherever they go and they have acquired the knack of getting their teams to cross the line when it matters.
City knew Ancelotti and Mourinho would be on the market last summer, but just like Manchester United with David Moyes, they chose a different solution and selected Manuel Pellegrini in order to embrace ‘holistic’ approach.
But while Pellegrini forged a reputation in Spain for building teams at unfashionable clubs, he arrived at City with a gaping hole in his CV when it comes to winning big prizes.
And with the finishing line looming in the Premier League, Pellegrini has failed to motivate his players and drive them on at the crucial time.
He was derided as a ‘Nearly Man’ in Spain and winning the Capital One Cup will not be enough to change that perception.
5. Failure to avoid muscle injuries
Roberto Martínez, the Everton manager, claimed recently that a “mistake has been made” if a player suffers a soft tissue muscle injury, yet the reality for Manchester City this season is that they have been plagued by such problems.
Sergio Agüero and Kompany have been in and out of the treatment room all season with calf, thigh and hamstring problems, while Toure is now facing at least a fortnight out with a groin injury sustained early in the 3-2 defeat at Liverpool.
While nothing can be done to prevent breaks, fractures or ligament damage, muscle strains are often attributed to a failure to warm-up properly or a player being asked to play when a previous injury has not repaired sufficiently.
Agüero has missed over 20 games this season, with Kompany also being sidelined for a similar number of fixtures.
When two crucial players miss such large chunks of a season with muscle injuries, it should be a reason for alarm.
6. Lost points against bottom four
In eight games so far this season against the current bottom four, City have dropped a staggering ten points, including defeats at Sunderland and Cardiff City.
Pellegrini’s players also dropped points at Norwich City when held 0-0 at Carrow Road and, when added to the early season defeat at Aston Villa, it is not difficult to see where City have blown their title ambitions.
Liverpool, in contrast, have a 100 per cent record against the bottom four, while Chelsea had a similarly flawless record until they fell to an unexpected defeat against Sunderland on Saturday.
The key to any title success is rarely about the results against fellow title contenders – Manchester United lost at home to Chelsea and City last season but won the league – it is about beating the also-rans.
City have failed spectacularly in this department.