Manuel Pellegrini broke into the “respected” managers category after he ended up finishing his first season with Villarreal in a Champions League position, something which surely raised the eyebrows of many fans and players alike. The Chilean manager used a 4-3-1-2 formation for the majority of the year to get the best he could out of Juan Roman Riquelme, an attacking midfielder, situating him behind the two front men and ahead of the three midfielders.
However, at Malaga, Pellegrini rotated between a number of formations, such as 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 and the basic 4-4-2. At Malaga as well as Villarreal, he opposed using fixed players out wide in certain positions such as left or right wing, but instead preferred situational width, and utilized it to it’s full potential. As a result, the full-backs and central midfielders would take up these wide positions whenever possible.
Pellegrini has always had one of the interiors be more like a natural winger, such as Eliseu at Malaga, a Portugese wide man capable of providing a “Plan B” and giving them that width whenever a problem arose. It is debatable whether Jesus Navas, the Sevilla winger that Manchester City have recently purchased, could be used in this role.
At Malaga, Manuel Pellegrini situated his full backs extremely high up the pitch, relying on the two defensive midfielders such as Toulalan and Camacho to cover for them on occasion. To support these full backs, one of the two forwards would drift out wide, as well as the attacking midfielder, in this case, Isco. The combination of these three players would create fierce triangles on the far side of the pitch, near the corner flag, utilizing possession between them and finding key passes that would unlock the oppositions defense. This triangle football is called Tiki-Taka.
Manuel has been known to be a fan of two out-and-out center backs, the likes of which rarely go forward, maintaining a deep defensive line when out of possession. As a result, Pellegrini’s teams don’t tend to be fairly active off the ball, and instead prefer to sit deep in fixed positions. When his side holds possession, it’s quite the opposite!
In front of his two center backs you have the two defensive midfielders providing a solid line, aiming to break up any quick short passing, sitting back while the team pushes to prevent counters. “If you don’t have the ball, you don’t score.” This was the phrase that came into mind whenever you saw Pellegrini’s side play, such as Villarreal who managed to retain possession against Europe’s most dominant forces.
At Malaga, the “Riquelme” Pellegrini used in this side was Santi Cazorla, who played for them at the time, and more recently, Isco, the youngster who recently signed for Real. The Spaniard would always take up the LAM position behind the attacking pair up front, drifting out wide to assist the full back and wide forward and activating the triangle. His flexibility in his technical areas allowed Pellegrini to switch immediately to a 4-2-3-1 and play Cazorla as the wide man situated at LM. Now, who is the “Cazorla” or “Riquelme” of this City side? The role will more than likely be given to David Silva, the Spaniard that is capable of immense technical ability, and is more often than not the key to unlocking defenses when it comes to breaking down the opposition.
The recent signings of Jovetic, Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, and Alvar Negredo has seen Manchester City exceed the £90m mark in the transfer window this summer. But are these just signings? Do they serve a purpose or are they just good players that offer very little tactically?
Of course they serve a purpose. At Real, Manuel had little to no control over the signings, and as a result this eventually led up to him getting fired after a mere single season with the Great Whites. The side achieved a record of 96 points surprisingly, but, Barcelona were the winners that year reaching an impressive tally of 99 points. The president just bought some of the world’s best players, somehow hoping they would click together and eventually win them the Champions League. But this was a totally unrealistic feat. Pellegrini, as he so genuinely put it:
“It’s no good having an orchestra with the best guitarists if I don’t have a pianist. Real Madrid have the best guitarists, but if I ask them to play the piano they won’t be able to do it so well.”
But this is a different case. This time, Manuel has brought in a number of players capable of carrying out a number of roles, giving the Chilean a profound sense of tactical flexibility. One such example is Jovetic, who can carry out the role of a supporting striker and even a lone striker, playing both roles a number of times for Fiorentina last season. He will more than likely slot in behind the attacking pair up front, which will more than likely consist of Aguero and either Negredo or Dzeko.
Next is Jesus Navas, a Spanish winger capable of cutting inside and giving City a lot of width in that position, something he’s done extremely well for Sevilla last season and of course Spain in the Confederations Cup earlier this year. In a sense, Jesus Navas could be used very similarly to Eliseu at Malaga. He could be used as a “Plan B’”in that sense, and along with Silva, they could rotate extremely quickly into a 4-2-3-1 with Jovetic or Aguero playing centrally.
Third on the list is Fernandinho, a Box to Box Midfielder who brought his name onto many club’s transfer shortlists when he put in an outstanding Champions League performance against teams like Chelsea, where he shined by carrying out a fantastic offensive midfield role while positioned deep in midfield. In attack, he supported players like Adriano, Mkhitaryan, and Willian, which almost led to two victories over two matches for the eastern Europeans.
So how will he fit into Manuel’s side? Well, the Brazilian will most likely start ahead of Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia and slot in alongside Yaya Toure. It will be interesting to see how the Box-To-Box Ivorian will fit in alongside Fernandinho, seeing as the two are both capable of providing fantastic defensive duties while carrying out offensive ones. The two will more than likely have to have superb communication seeing as to when one or the other goes forward and the opposite player stays back to cover the full backs.
Seeing as Manuel favored the 4-3-1-2 formation at Villarreal and Malaga, it is quite possible Fernandinho will be the more aggressive along with Yaya Toure. He will play slightly ahead in midfield in more of a central midfield position, slightly behind David Silva’s vacant LAM position when the Spaniard drifts out wide to create the triangle, and the Brazilian will move forward centrally.
Lastly, we have Alvaro Negredo, another Sevilla Spaniard brought in by Pellegrini. The target man scored 32 goals last season, playing as a lone striker in Sevilla’s 4-2-3-1 formation carried out for the majority of the year. My prediction is that Negredo will feature heavily when Manuel carries out this 4-2-3-1, playing again as a lone striker linking up with Aguero behind him. It is possible that Negredo may feature alongside Aguero in a 4-2-2-2 and 4-3-1-2, forming a formidable partnership with the Argentinian, with Negredo being the target man and Aguero being the quick, nimble striker capable of finding space in abundance.
The conclusion in this analysis and insight to Pellegrini’s tactics and aims for next season is the fact that City will be one of the most tactically impressive teams in the Premiership, providing their gifted players carry out Pellegrini’s orders with succession.