Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City ship is taking on water and he might be running out of time to save it

It was only last week that Manchester City came away from Stamford Bridge with a point probably knowing they could and should have taken all three. It was the classic case of both teams ensuring that they didn’t lose. Manuel Pellegrini’s men attacked, vying for the win, whilst Chelsea did what Jose Mourinho’s sides do best: frustrate, remain solid and break with pace. No real surprise then that the final score was 1-1.

Yet following Saturday’s dismal showing against Hull City at a flat Etihad Stadium the performance of the previous week was instantly forgotten. And the gap that was at five points now stands at seven.

It’s not the points difference, however, that remains Pellegrini’s biggest problem. Manchester City are no strangers to overturning deficits. As their fans sing they “fight ‘til the end”. We’ve seen them do it before twice overtaking the league-leaders – Manchester United and Liverpool – in the two seasons that they won the title. And, of course, nobody will forget the QPR game.

The problem for Pellegrini is that the impressive Chelsea performance papered over the cracks. City haven’t won a Premier League match since New Year’s Day, they crashed out of the FA Cup following a 2-0 defeat to Championship side Middlesbrough at the Etihad and the goals are starting to dry up.

City’s loss of form has coincided with the departure of Yaya Toure, currently away on international duty with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations. His return, alongside new signing Wilfried Bony, should help the Blues resurrect their title challenge. And it’s something that needs to happen quickly, because the team look lost without him at present and the current midfield axis of Fernando and Fernandinho does not look worthy of the champions.

The former Porto midfielder Fernando, signed in the summer for around £12 million is increasingly looking like a poor buy, and it’s no wonder that with Toure away James Milner can feel frustrated at not being given the opportunity to play in his preferred central midfield role.

Yet the ever-reliable Milner has become a more permanent fixture in the City side this season and is fast becoming as important to the team as David Silva. The England regular may have a reputation for being slightly bland and is often underrated by fans who don’t support the team he plays for, but one thing’s for sure City would be worse off this season without him.

It was Milner’s heroics that spared their blushes on Saturday afternoon with a last-gasp equaliser. Likewise early in January when the Blues almost exited the FA Cup at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday. And he was arguably City’s best player against Chelsea last weekend. It surely must be high on the Pellegrini priority list to tie Milner down to a new contract, with his current deal expiring this summer.

As seasons go for Manchester City this one has been more reminiscent of the pre-Sheikh days. Back when the phrase “Typical City” was a lot more prominent. Their current form has scary similarities to that of earlier in the year before the Sergio Aguero-inspired Bayern Munich victory in the Champions League. The spine of the team in Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Silva and Aguero are all looking off the pace against the lesser lights of the Premier League at present – particularly at home.

There’s no tempo, there’s a lack of creativity and there’s comical defending. All of which were apparent on Saturday. Pellegrini may get the praise for playing attacking football, but Mourinho is the man that is delivering the results and charging his team to the summit. City’s goals have started to dry up and they’re not entertaining in the same manner that they were last year.

With persistent rumours linking City to Pep Guardiola and the club’s Director of Football Txiki Begiristain admitting that only a handful of coaches – including the Bayern Munich manager – have the required philosophy to manage the Blues, Pellegrini’s replacement may be being sounded out. Especially with the Chilean entering the last 18 months of his contract at the age of 61.

Of course, there’s plenty of the season left in which it can be turned around. But the Manchester City ship is taking on water and the composed Pellegrini, whose contract runs until the summer 2016, might be running out of time to save it.

‘More U-turns than a dodgy plumber,’ but Manchester City still in good hands despite Yaya Toure’s antics

The Ivorian powerhouse midfielder has been at the centre of intrigue and confusion this week amidst his agent’s claims of ‘disrespect’.

Just a fortnight ago Manchester City clinched the Premier League title, coupling it with the Capital One Cup to cap a successful first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini.

Yet merely a week later, the steady, holistic ship that the Chilean so gracefully, patiently and impressively sailed to glory has been ever so slightly rocked by claims made by Yaya Toure’s agent Dimitry Seluk. 

There’s a saying at Manchester City referring to the soap-opera nature of the club. ‘Typical City’. The club that never does anything the easy way, it was hoped it would be eradicated with an influx of money from the Middle East.

It hasn’t. 

From Manchester City apparently not recognising Toure’s birthday (they did, there was a cake, a sing-song and numerous birthday tweets), to disrespecting him because Roberto Carlos got a Bugatti from the President at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala whilst Yaya got nothing…it’s the kind of line you would expect to hear at a five-year-old’s birthday party, not from the agent of a Premier League footballer. 

To quote Iain Duncan Smith, Toure has done more U-turns than a dodgy plumber. Yet, even if the Ivory Coast powerhouse does leave Manchester City this summer then the club will still be in good hands.

For as integral to the side as Toure is, the fact is that at 31 he has only a few years left at the top level. He needs replacing in City’s engine room and if his latest alleged tantrum makes the powers that be at the Etihad Stadium start scouting for his replacement now it can only be beneficial.

Putting the Toure debacle aside, there are numerous positives surrounding Manchester City. In an in-house interview, Chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak spoke glitteringly of the club’s future – despite the impending Financial Fair Play constraints.

He cast away any doubts from those envious of the regeneration in East Manchester – on and off the pitch. He emphasised Sheikh Mansour, the owner’s, continued commitment to the cause, to the future. He praised Patrick Vieira’s work with the Elite Development Squad (EDS), the man it seems they’re moulding to take over from Pellegrini in a few years time.

He praised the likes of Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott who will depart on free transfers this summer. He spoke glowingly of Yaya Toure, the man who inspired City’s Capital One Cup win amongst their drive for Premier League glory.

In a nod to UEFA, he spoke about Manchester City’s impending profitability, and declared the running of the club as sustainable, even managing a dig at how City’s neighbours, Manchester United, over the road are run by the Glazer family.

“We have zero debt we don’t pay a penny to service any debt. For me, that is a sustainable model.”

For Manchester City fans it must be refreshing to hear such intelligence, ambition, sophistication and pride at what has been achieved so far, and at what is to come, emanating from the man in charge. 

Yaya Toure may leave Manchester in the summer in a manner that risks undoing all the hard work he has put into City. They would miss his brilliance, his goals, his powerful, driving runs from midfield that leave the opposition staring blankly, shaking their heads in disbelief.

Yet, even if he does go there’s no denying that with the Sheikh bankrolling matters, Khaldoon Al-Mubarak running the day-to-day business and Pellegrini at the helm, Manchester City are in safe hands.

Pablo Zabaleta – the undisputed hero at Manchester City

Manuel Pellegrini’s men claimed the Premier League trophy on Sunday, and Pablo Zabaleta’s form is one of the key reasons why.

In the upper echelons at the Etihad Stadium, where the powers that be must now decide where to strengthen what is a Premier League winning squad, there must be a tinge of disappointment about Sergio Aguero’s fitness.

Manchester City’s mercurial striker has been hampered by muscular problems that have disrupted what could potentially have been a wonderful season for the 25-year-old.

And it was a campaign that surely would have seen Manuel Pellegrini’s men crowned champions sooner than the final day of the season, had Aguero’s fitness not been compromised.

But as important as Aguero is to this Manchester City side, it is another Argentinian that once again deserves the plaudits this year.

Pellegrini has brought the excitement back to the blue-half of Manchester. His appointment was described as ‘holistic’ and it brought much sneering, but those who sneered must now reflect that the dismissal of Roberto Mancini has proved a masterstroke by the City board.

Attacking, attractive football has been at the forefront of the Chilean’s playing style, the likes of Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure have been the principal beneficiaries. Indeed it was Toure’s rampaging run, as has often been the case this season, which saw City reach 100 Premier League goals in their 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa last week.

But it was the man who set up the first two goals in that vital win against the Midlands outfit, Pablo Zabaleta, who was the cream of the crop.

Marauding down the right wing, the gritty, tenacious Argentinian is a joy to watch. Zabaleta is becoming an institution at Manchester City and in the Premier League; he is fast becoming part of the furniture.

It’s often said that modern day fullbacks are better offensively than they are defensively, yet Zabaleta is the exception to the rule.

Sunday’s game with West Ham, the final fixture of the Premier League campaign, saw the 29-year-old play his 48th game of the season. He has missed just three Premier League matches, proving how integral he is to the club’s success.

Seven assists, one goal, 15 clean sheets, 120 tackles won, 84 clearances made, the numbers do not tell the whole story for the hugely popular Zabaleta. His determination, passion and ability has helped drive City to a second Premier League trophy, to compliment the Capital One Cup won earlier this year.

Despite the majority of their core players – Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero – having missed a combined total of 35 games this season, City still earned Premier League glory.

Aguero may be the talismanic striker who grabs the headlines, but it’s his Argentinian teammate Zabaleta who is the undisputed hero at Manchester City.

Courtney Meppen-Walter on trial at Carlisle but does he deserve a second chance?

Courtney Meppen-Walter on trial at Carlisle but does he deserve a second chance?

It is not the first time that footballer Courtney Meppen-Walter has been on trial, though it is precisely this version of the aforementioned noun that the 19-year-old will prefer to be associated with.

Having been sentenced to 16 months in prison in February following a road traffic collision which led to the deaths of two people, Meppen-Walter could be forgiven for thinking he would never complete his professional career.

Read more on WNOLSport

It’s another gaffe but Hart should not be dropped

As Fernando Torres wheeled away in celebration, much to the delight of the 40,000 Chelsea fans packed inside Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the spotlight once again beamed brightly onto Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Whilst the majority of the City team looked to the sky in despair, Pablo Zabaleta, the marauding right-back, sank to his knees distraught at the drama he had just witnessed. As Hart stormed to his goal line to retrieve the ball from the net, the anger etched on his face was plain to see. “Keeper’s, f****** keeper’s,” he could be seen saying. A call his defender Matija Nastasic clearly had not heard…

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Weekly Podcast: Sir Alex Ferguson, Ian Holloway, this week’s Premier League fixtures and more!

This week the WNOL SportsTalk team discuss all things football. Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, Ian Holloway’s departure and the upcoming Premier League games.

Worth a listen!

Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United: Comment

For fifty minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday Manchester City lay down a marker to the rest of the Premier League. Four-nil up and cruising against their biggest rivals for the league title, Manuel Pellegrini portrayed a man who had ice in his veins on the sidelines. Whilst the Chilean’s counterpart in the opposing dug-out, David Moyes, struggled to comprehend with the demolition he was witnessing, Pellegrini was content that his side were finally beginning to implement his methods.

For as bad as Manchester United were on Sunday, City were every bit as impressive. Taking control of the match from the first minute. Led by the magnificent Vincent Kompany, his first Premier League game since Newcastle on the opening weekend, the Blues pressed their neighbours on the rare occasions Manchester United had control of possession in the first half. Yaya Toure, a beacon in midfield, ran United new-boy Marouane Fellaini ragged. Rio Ferdinand will be haunted by Sergio Aguero everywhere he looks over the next few days and Nemanja Vidic will sleep with one eye open after being bullied by the beastly Alvaro Negredo.

But perhaps the most significant performance, from the blue half of Manchester’s perspective, was that of Samir Nasri. Much maligned since his £25m move two years ago from Arsenal, the 26-year-old showed just why he was worthy of a hefty price tag. Covering more distance than anyone else on the field and playing a part in two of the Blues’ goals before scoring the fourth, Nasri came into his own. With the mercurial David Silva missing from the starting line-up, his absence was barely noticed given the manner in which the Frenchman deputised.

As laudable as the City performance was the spotlight may well focus on the inept display from Manchester United. Wayne Rooney’s performance the only positive for Moyes on a day of many negatives. The England striker’s sublime free-kick minutes from time was not even celebrated such was its irrelevance. But for Moyes the hard work will start in earnest when United face Liverpool in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. The 50-year-old Scot was said to have given his players the infamous United ‘hairdryer’ on Sunday, though whether it’s as effective as his predecessor’s remains to be seen.

Whilst the defensive errors which ultimately cost United three goals can be both attributed to the players on the pitch and ironed out, Moyes must take responsibility for the way he dithered on the sidelines. At half-time, 2-0 down and looking second best in every position, Moyes needed to bring at least one of his benched attacking trio of Javier Hernandez, Nani and Shinji Kagawa onto the field. With Ashley Young struggling to get anywhere near City’s formidable right of Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas and Antonio Valencia repeatedly failing to track Aleksandar Kolarov’s bursting runs, City were having incredible joy down the flanks – something unheard of under Roberto Mancini.

Yet it was the introduction of Tom Cleverley, an extra presence in the United midfield, coupled with City perhaps taking their foot off the accelerator that saw United commendably bring themselves back into the game but it was too little too late with the Reds 4-0 down. Rooney’s free-kick following an over-zealous challenge from Matija Nastasic was sensational, but the response of the 27-year-old, who broke the record for the most goals scored in a Manchester derby, told its own story. United were down and out.

With a scoreline emphasising such domination it is easy to compare it to City’s 6-1 mauling of United at Old Trafford two seasons ago. But the performance on Sunday deserves more merit than that of the 6-1. The result at Old Trafford the season before last was a one-off with United naively pressing at 3-1 with 10 men and only minutes remaining. Sunday saw City boss the game from the start.

Though Kompany and co. will play down its significance, the result will send shockwaves across the Premier League. With just five games played it is still far too early to talk about potential title winners, though one thing is clear. The City camp appears much happier under Pellegrini than they were last season under Mancini.