Wednesday 20 November 2019

Alan Hansen: Two tough away days set to make or break Pellegrini's first season

Manuel Pellegrini manager of Manchester City
Manuel Pellegrini manager of Manchester City

Alan Hansen

This is the week which could make or break Manchester City's title hopes and Manuel Pellegrini is under pressure to ensure his first season is not judged as a failure.

City may have lifted the League Cup earlier this month but anything other than first place in the Premier League is going to represent a massive disappointment, for the owners and the manager.

With away games against Manchester United and Arsenal in the next six days we will see how City respond when they are coming down on the final stretch and, of course, they have still got a major chance of winning the title.

They are hardly a team in the doldrums after thumping Fulham 5-0 on Saturday and if they play well nobody can touch them in the league.

If they win at Old Trafford and the Emirates I would say they will win the title, yet there is always that uncertainty and unpredictability with City.

You look at the players they've got and the vast amounts of money they've spent, they should be home and hosed already.

They should be miles clear at the top and there's no way we should be talking about Chelsea winning the title ahead of them.

For the last three years there has been an argument that they should have won it every season, but they've only had that dramatic finish against QPR in 2012 to show for it.

It was theirs to lose last season and they still ended up losing it, to an average Manchester United by nine points. If they had won it last year you would have said they would be absolute certainties to win it again but it has not been straightforward.

A few months ago they were fighting on all four fronts but now they are out of the Champions League and FA Cup, leaving the Premier League as their only other chance of success.

Pellegrini will be acutely aware that first is first and second is nowhere.

Liverpool may have taken away a bit of their thunder in recent weeks but right through the season, City have been the team to watch, particularly at home. Yet it will mean nothing if they don't win the title.

Roberto Mancini was dismissed last year after missing out and there will inevitably be question marks against Pellegrini if he falls short. That is part and parcel of the job and he will know that.

If they go to Old Trafford and the Emirates and play their best there's no problem, they will win the games.

But there's been doubts about them defensively all season, particularly down the left side.

I've lost count of the amount of times City have conceded a goal when Aleksandar Kolarov was 90 yards down the pitch. Pellegrini should have sorted that problem out earlier in the season but has left it, while Martin Demichelis really hasn't helped them either. For a team of their quality they have been beaten too many times by too many average sides.

Winning titles is not about playing well every week, it's about scrapping for wins when you're not playing well and I don't think City have done that enough this season.

Pellegrini also looks like a man who is too worried about how the team is going to play, rather like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. You look at Jose Mourinho, he is not interested in how the team plays, he just wants to win whatever the cost and the guys I played with were like that.

If Mourinho wins the title, people won't be pointing out that in every game the two Chelsea centre-halves were stood on the 18-yard line. Of course you want to provide entertainment for the supporters but Alex Ferguson was the same, winning is the most important thing and worry about how you play later.


When Chelsea went to Old Trafford and the Emirates, they were the most boring games you've ever seen, but if Mourinho wins the title everyone will say he's a genius.

For City, the game against their city rivals United will be pivotal. David Moyes has obviously had some respite with two good results, two clean sheets, and a decent result against City would damage Pellegrini's hopes of closing the gap on Chelsea.

United will have a big crowd and that might be a disadvantage to Moyes because the supporters will want them to go for the throat. But if they play an open game, City will batter them, so I wouldn't be surprised if Moyes attempts to hit them on the break.

City will not be scared of going to Arsenal either because Wenger does not seem to have a Plan B. Six points from these two games and everyone will believe City can do it – if they fall short again, we'll be talking about another hugely disappointing campaign.

For a club the size of City, with all their dreams and ambitions, simply winning the League Cup is nowhere near good enough. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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