While the official end-of-season post-mortem is still more than a month away, the inquest into why Manchester City have unravelled this season started among their supporters some time ago and, one would imagine, at boardroom level as well.
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Five wins in their last 15 games in all competitions is simply not good enough for the champions of England – let alone the most experienced and well-paid crop of players in the country.
There is no shame in failing to retain the Premier League title in a campaign which saw Chelsea acquire strikers who can score goals, Arsenal rediscover their mojo and even Manchester United eventually get their act together. However, the manner in which they have fallen off the pace since the turn of the year is a big concern.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini rightly took the plaudits last term when he won the league at the first time of asking, albeit thanks in no small part to Liverpool falling at the final few hurdles. He also claimed the League Cup, although conquering Wigan Athletic, Newcastle United, Leicester City, West Ham United and Sunderland is the least to be expected of such a talented team.
However, this time around he has failed to kick on, on all fronts. Dumped out of the League Cup at home to Newcastle in November and embarrassed by Middlesbrough in the FA Cup a couple of months later, the Chilean headed into the Champions League last-16 clash with Barcelona knowing he could not use the ‘domestic commitments’ excuse.
Barca are a formidable opponent but Pellegrini did his reputation no favours whatsoever when he stuck with his standard 4-4-2 formation in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium, allowing the visitors the freedom of the pitch. A 2-1 loss was followed by a 1-0 defeat in Spain, and once again the Blues had missed out on the quarter-finals, showing no sign of progress.
The big games have been hit-and-miss. Victories over Liverpool and United at home, two draws with Chelsea and a 2-2 at Arsenal are countered by morale-sapping losses to the Gunners at home and Liverpool away, with a trip to Old Trafford to come tomorrow.
And recent losses in the so-called ‘easier’ fixtures, at Burnley and Crystal Palace respectively, have turned up the heat on Pellegrini.
For the Blues to be scrapping for a top-four finish in April, and have no trophy to pursue, is not what owner Sheikh Mansour had in mind when he spent more than £1billion on his project. Pellegrini has cut a resigned figure of late, and the time has come to part ways.
However, director of football Txiki Begiristain should follow him out of the exit door this summer. Given the responsibility of player recruitment, he will have to come up with a monumental explanation for his decisions when he is summoned to Abu-Dhabi in May.
Since his appointment in October 2012, a huge amount of money has been spent bringing Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala, Wilfried Bony, Fernando and Willy Caballero to the club. Of those, only midfield man Fernandinho can be deemed a genuine success, and even he appears to have been weighed down by the World Cup despair he suffered with Brazil last summer.
Despite the Blues having the oldest squad in the division, there has been no investment in young players, with the exception of the so-far disastrous acquisition Eliaquim Mangala, who is 24. And if midfielder James Milner departs on a free transfer, Joe Hart will be the last remaining English first-team player.
Pellegrini has failed on the pitch, and Begiristain has sorely disappointed off it. They should both be relieved of their duties this summer.