By Sona Walla – November 7, 2013
Manuel Pelligrini is considered one of the most astute tacticians operating in European football.. He began coaching in South America in his native Chile and then in Argentina where he managed popular club Boca Juniors before moving to Spain. There he acquired extensive experience with a number of clubs including European giants Real Madrid. It was however during his time in charge of traditionally smaller outfits Villarreal and Malaga that he demonstrated the breadth of his talent, transforming them into European Champions League semi-finalists and quarter finalists respectively. What was impressive is that he achieved this without ever wavering from his principles of attacking football.
Pelligrini’s success centers around his sophisticated understanding of the game, clear attacking football ideas and that precious flexibility he possesses to adjust to the complexities of the game. Although many in England raised eyebrows when Manchester City hired him earlier this year, Pelligrini’s experience suggests he has the capacity to organize City’s plethora of stars into a balanced and entertaining team. In his first major test of the season versus rivals Manchester United, Pelligrini served a sophisticated tactical concoction to dismantle the incumbent champion 4-1 providing an early glimpse of how he intends to build his Manchester City. Let’s deconstruct Manuel Pelligrini’s approach and tactics.
The game itself remains the true teacher and it constantly reiterates that when building a team, success does not reside within complex tactical systems or merely in the acquisition of multiple talented players. The key ingredient is the capacity to understand the respective characteristics and strengths of players and most importantly how they can complement each other. Pelligrini is armed with such an understanding and thus the intelligence to select, organize and deploy his players on the field in a manner that maximizes their strengths. The Chilean openly states that his preferred system is a 4-2-2-2 that is quite popular in South America with two deep lying midfielders protecting a four man back line to form a solid defensive block. In attack he often opts to use two attackers who are complementary and can form a striking partnership. The key to his system are the two creative midfielders playing centrally behind the forwards. The playmaker or #10, the primary fountain of creativity of Pelligrini’s teams is found in this role. Argentine Juan Roman Riquelme blossomed under Pelligrini’s guidance in this position at Villarreal as did Spaniards Santi Cazorla and Isco more recently at Malaga. The the two creative midfielders tend to play more central with the fullbacks urged provide width and join the attack on the flanks.
Against rivals Manchester United, Pelligrini demonstrated his flexibility once again as he made subtle intelligent adjustments to craft a path to victory for his team:
* The #6 – Defensive Midfielder: The acquisition and insertion of the disciplined, defensive-minded and mobile Fernandinho as the primary shield in front of City’s defense has proved critical. He allows City’s fullbacks to join the attack freely as well as his more attack-minded midfield partner Yaya Toure. The Brazilian has shown great tactical awareness in blocking passing lanes to intercept the ball from the opposition but also in delivering it quickly in transition to jump-start his own team’s attack.
* The #8 – Hybrid Midfielder: The re-positioning of the powerful and gifted Yaya Toure a little lower on field next to Fernandiho but empowered with the freedom to intelligently surge forward in transition to join the attack was a subtle but effective move. It provides City an undeniable defensive physical presence in midfield but also the added danger of numerical advantage during key moments in attack as the big Ivorian’s unpredictable runs forward has troubled opponent’s all season long. Playing with more discipline, big Yaya looks more composed and finishes matches with energy to spare unlike last season when he often appeared exhausted.
* The #10- Playmaker: The positioning of Samir Nasri and David Silva wide on the wings serves to block the attacking lanes for opponent’s fullbacks in the defensive phase. However in attack mode, City’s playmakers roam and drift inward to create and link up with forwards Negredo and Aguero which brings the added benefit of freeing up the lanes for their own fullbacks Zabaleta and Kolarov, a great crosser of the ball, to join the attack.
* The #9 – Striker: Newly acquired Spaniard Negredo is a big and physically strong attacker with good technique and mobility who naturally demands the full attention of both of the opponent’s center backs. He stays high, keeping them occupied but also creating space underneath him for Nasri, Silva and the explosive Aguero to exploit.
* The 9-1/2 – Second Striker: Along with Nasri and Silva, the dangerous and extremely mobile Aguero is the X factor of Pelligrini’s system. The diminutive Argentine has been given the freedom to roam all across the front of the attack and in transition phases smartly drops into the space created underneath Negredo to receive the ball from his midfield and accelerate play. When not penetrating himself, he runs axially to draw in opposing defenses then suddenly releases the ball down the wings only to continue his run into the penalty area to finish off crosses.
A master concoction by maestro Pelligrini that completely bewildered incumbent champion Manchester United early this season and continues to trouble many of his opponents. With City having qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time, all indications are that Pelligrini’s outfit will grow into a force to be feared as the Chilean gradually fine-tunes his machine.