Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini floored by flaw in football philosophy

Jose Mourinho ruthlessly exposed the deficiencies in the system

If you listened hard, there were some classic Jose Mourinho touches to take in when he held court in Manuel Pellegrini's backyard late on Monday night.

The deft faux slip-up, for example, when he called the Manchester City manager "Pellegrino", recalling to mind his press conference discussion of Tito Vilanova soon after he had poked the Barcelona coach in the eye while managing Real Madrid. "And as for Pito Vilanova or whatever his name is… I don't have anything to say," Mourinho said back then. "The referee or the fourth official or the TV cameras will tell the story...' Pito being Spanish slang for "prick".

It was impossible for Pellegrini, an individual utterly uninterested in the cult of personality, to compete with this – and all the more so since a flaw in his own club's football philosophy had given Mourinho the grounds to swagger and gloat.

That flaw is the absence of a lower, slower gear and it was manifest in the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea. Other managers might have concluded that Monday night was one for "the handbrake", to borrow Arsène Wenger's phrase, especially when Pellegrini's midfield starting options excluded Fernandinho, James Milner or Javi Garcia – the three players he might have turned to in order to match Chelsea's suffocating work in the central area.

But five men in midfield will always be a compromise too far for Pellegrini's City. Milner and Garcia remained steadfastly rooted to the bench because, as Pellegrini explained in a significant exposition of his own football philosophy before December's home game with Arsenal, he doesn't do compromise.

"We always try to play creatively and not to destroy what the other team wants to do," he said back then. "We are trying to find a style of play and changing names and the team plays exactly the same."

Pellegrini really meant this. It was the point that singularly animated him privately during a press lunch before Christmas – an occasion that revealed him to be a far more personable individual than his press conferences suggest.

Fernandinho has expanded the point, effectively saying that all players are subservient to the attackers: "My position is to provide for them. It's like you journalists: you come here and get the interview, and in your office your editor will shape it better."

While the benefits of the free-spirit philosophy were borne out in the six goals City reaped against Arsenal at the Etihad, the flaw was exposed in the way that they conceded three in that game which could have ended 9-6.

The beguiling home match with Liverpool on Boxing Day was the same: an immense game, as play flowed this way and that, but with City displaying that same constant capacity to concede.

There is conjecture over who should take the blame for Monday: perhaps Martin Demichelis for being overwhelmed; perhaps Yaya Touré for wandering off and leaving him. But it was actually the system. City adhered to their two-striker set-up even though they lacked the holding midfielders of muscularity and pace required for a 4-4-2. Pellegrini's only substitution was a forward for a forward.

He is inherently more pragmatic than this. He certainly was at Villarreal, where there was adaptation from him to the needs of each game, and it is hard to avoid the impression that he is now steadfastly adhering to the Barcelona ethos which his new employers have told him they want inculcated throughout their club. Barcelona, too, play only one way and it is for that reason that they can take a real beating at times. The two legs of last season's Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich – aggregate score 7-0 – is a case in point.

The defeat to Chelsea is a serious challenge to City's indomitability at the start of an onerous period. In the next six weeks, City face Barcelona twice, Chelsea again in the FA Cup, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League. Then they travel to Anfield and Goodison. Doubts for the first Barcelona fixture include Fernandinho (possibly back in two weeks), Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero. Talk of defeating the Catalans has hushed a little.

For all that, it would be grossly premature to say that a flaw in City is fatal. One narrow defeat should not erase the fact that they are capable of crushing teams with their pace and intensity, week after week. City's players all like to talk about the attritional win at Newcastle, earlier this month, as evidence of their ability to fight. Their squad remains the strongest, with most potential to take the title. It's just that we know more now about how they can be beaten.

Likening his own team's philosophy to Wenger's last month, Pellegrini said that free-flowing football was "very important for your mentality" and that both Arsenal and City played "as a big team". Winning the title at the expense of Chelsea and Mourinho – antithesis and anathema to him in equal measure – would quite obviously bring him a deep sense of personal satisfaction. Until then, he'll just have to live with the insults.

Mourinho v Pellegrini: Head-to-head

Monday's win at the Etihad extended Jose Mourinho's fine record against Manuel Pellegrini. The Portuguese has lost just one of nine games with his adversary, against Malaga when in charge of Real.

Mar 2011 Real M 7-0 Malaga

Oct 2011 Malaga 0-4 Real M

Jan 2012 Real M 3-2 Malaga

Jan 2012 Malaga 0-1 Real M

Mar 2012 Real M 1-1 Malaga

Dec 2012 Malaga 3-2 Real M

May 2013 Real M 6-2 Malaga

Oct 2013 Chelsea 2-1 Man C

Feb 2014 Man C 0-1 Chelsea

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicReview: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
peopleJustin Bieber accuses papparrazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sportWinger arrives from Real Madrid and could make debut on Saturday
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Hooked on classical: cellist Rachael Lander began drinking to combat panic attacks
musicThe cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow...
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis