Questions to be asked over Pellegrini's approach

Michael Regan

With the dust beginning to settle on last night's defeat to Bayern and with an acceptance that what was witnessed was an exceptional performance from an exceptional side (how many visiting sides get applauded by a home crowd?) is it fair, whilst lauding Pep Guardiola and his charges, to question the approach of Manuel Pellegrini and wonder if there are longer term concerns?

This is not to dismiss the fact that there are very few, if any, individuals from a City perspective to emerge with any credit but the fact remains clear that Pellegrini's approach put City very much at a disadvantage. As we saw in the derby Pellegrini is not one to be cowed by the opposition, believing that an attack first policy with the talent City possess is the one to provide the best opportunity to emerge with the points.

Equally you cannot legislate for a piece of poor goalkeeping little over five minutes into the game that handed Bayern a critical early lead, a goal that visibly sucked the life and belief out of the City team, but having withstood a dominant first half performance from the Germans to go in at half time with just a one-goal defeat it was clear that changes needed to be made to try and restore a foothold in the game.

Guardiola opted for a formation without a recognised striker, with Thomas Muller the 'false nine' and the wing pair of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben playing high and wide, City's central midfield pairing of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho overwhelmed in similar fashion to United's pairing of Michael Carrick and Marouanne Fellaini in the 4-1 derby win. With Jesus Navas and the strike pair of Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko offering little protection, Samir Nasri was overrun and constantly dragged inside and out, in the main chasing shadows as Bayern's shape - with and without the ball - provided the appearance of them having one, possibly two extra players such was the advantage in terms of space and options.

The obvious move at half time then was to withdraw Edin Dzeko, starved of service but his feet of stone offering little for City to hold on to, bringing on David Silva. Silva's presence would have bolstered City centrally, provided support for Nasri and Navas but crucially afforded City more possession and alternatives than the medium to long passes constantly hit during the opening forty-five minutes. Think back over the first hour or so: was there any short passes or carries that took City into the final third? I have and cannot think of one occasion until Bayern had twice added to their lead and sat back with the game and points safely tucked away.

That no half time change was made implies that Pellegrini, although flexible in his approach in some regards, is very much wedded to the idea of playing two strikers. Now, this can work and be flexible in itself with one dropping deep with the other a more focal target but this works only when you have the ball, and plenty of it. Facing Bayern, reigning European Champions and with Guardiola now at the helm, was always going to result in a possession battle (Bayern completed a staggering 597 passes) so it was vital for City to give themselves the best opportunity to match them in this regard.

Now, would this tactic have altered the final result? Probably not. What it would have undoubtedly done, even at half time a goal down, is better equipped City to get something from the game and most certainly avoid the type of defeat that opens up old wounds in this competition at a point when the opening day win over Viktoria Plzen looked to have provided a much needed confidence boost.

It will be interesting now to see how Pellegrini reacts. There are two crucial back to back games against CSKA Moscow on the horizon, not to mention important Premier League games as City look to get back on track on all fronts.

There are times of course where a front two is the right option but a degree of pragmatism must apply and especially so when you consider the likes of Stevan Jovetic, David Silva and James Milner did not start in City's midfield last night, all viable options to provide the creativity and attacking threat sorely lacking in what was a chastening defeat for all involved.

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