For Manuel Pellegrini, the first Manchester derby of the season has come at totally the wrong time. Defeat against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium this weekend could lead Manchester City officials to ponder whether or not they currently have the right man in charge.
City, for the first time since October 2013, have lost two competitive matches in a row. Last weekend they were undone by Sam Allardyce’s West Ham side at Upton Park - before, perhaps more worryingly, they were dumped out of the Capital One Cup by Newcastle United on Wednesday night.
It was more concerning because of the massive gulf in class between the two sides. While Pellegrini deployed the majority of his star names - including Yaya Toure, David Silva and even Sergio Aguero in the second half - Newcastle boss Alan Pardew fielded a very inexperienced team that looked ripe for a hiding.
Question marks over Pellegrini
However, City’s star-studded team not only failed to score, they were beaten 2-0. It could be argued that the home side weren’t motivated for the task in hand, particularly with Sunday’s Manchester derby on the horizon, but getting the team focused and hungry to win every match is ultimately the responsibility of Pellegrini.
The Chilean deserved more credit than he probably got last season for winning the Premier League title in his debut season with the Citizens, but at a club like Manchester City, successfully defending the trophy is just as important as winning it in the first place.
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Champions League woes
Something equally important is progressing to the knockout rounds of the Champions League - a scenario which looks extremely unlikely this season after City failed to win any of their first three Group E matches.
Pellegrini’s predecessor, Roberto Mancini, was sacked for a variety of reasons - one of which was his failure to help the team progress to the latter stage of Europe’s premier club competition.
And while Pellegrini got City through last season - in a group containing Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow, along with giants Bayern Munich, it would have been a travesty had he failed - his side should have done much better against a Barcelona side that were there for the taking.
This season, meanwhile, it’s fast becoming an unmitigated disaster for City in Europe. First they were beaten 1-0 by Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, which is far from a disgraceful result, before back-to-back draws against AS Roma and CSKA Moscow.
It was the 2-2 draw with CSKA - City surrendered a two-goal lead - that has effectively put paid to their ambitions of reaching the latter stages. There’s still an outside chance, but City are likely to end up in the latter stages of the Europa League, rather than the Champions League.
Pellegrini must win league title again
This would be another big blot on Pellegrini’s Manchester City CV - and the only way he can salvage this season is by winning the Premier League title.
"I think he will get the sack. There is every chance, if this carries on, that Pellegrini will be out." - Man City legend Rodney Marsh.
But because of Chelsea’s rip-roaring start to the season, there’s a chance that Manchester City could effectively be out of the Premier League title race come 3:30pm on Sunday afternoon.
Defeat to United would leave City - presuming Chelsea record a routine win over Queens Park Rangers a day earlier - a massive nine points behind Jose Mourinho’s side.
Chelsea too strong
And with Chelsea looking so strong - there are even suggestions the Blues could go close to matching Arsenal’s remarkable 2003-04 campaign, the season of the ‘Invincibles’ - that nine-point gap could become unassailable, even at this premature stage in the campaign.
It would also make it three defeats on the bounce for Manchester City, whose expectant owners may begin to feel a little anxious.
Pellegrini, the man nicknamed ‘The Engineer’, might only have 90 more minutes to fix his team’s problems.
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