Manuel Pellegrini's Greatest Manchester City Matches: Part 2 - Seasons 2 & 3.By Howard Hockin | 09 June 2020
In Part 1 of our look back at Manuel Pellegrini’s greatest matches, we focused on his debut season, a season packed full of memorable moments, as he steered City to a domestic double. In Part 2, we look at the highlights of his final two seasons at the club. Little did we know that is peak had already been reached. But whilst seasons two and three never matched what went before, there were still plenty of excellent performances. Here’s the ones that stood out for me, once more in chronological order.
Manchester City 3 Liverpool 1 – Premier League.
30th August 2014
As good a result as this was, against the team that had taken City to the wire the previous season, it is rather telling perhaps that it makes the list for seasons 2 and 3 rather easily, when the previous season it may not have escaped the cut. Because after the feast, came the famine that was Pellegrini’s second season in charge.
Still, this was a great result, and few knew what lay ahead at the time. I’ll be honest though, I remember nothing of this game. In case you don’t either, here is what happened. Liverpool had a sterile domination until close to half-time, when Stevan Jovetic pounced on indecision in the Liverpool defence to fire home. He would fire home a second goal nine minutes into the second half before Aguero sealed the game 27 seconds after coming on for an injured Dzeko. I’ve no idea why he was on the bench in the first place. Pablo Zabaleta scored an own goal to keep the home fans on edge, but City saw the game out comfortably as Liverpool’s new signing Mario Balotelli looked on from the stands. The BBC match report called it a statement of intent, but sadly that did not turn out to be the case, nor was it the case for Stevan Jovetic after an injury-plagued debut season. In the end he’d make more headlines for his fashion sense on Instagram rather than for what he did on the pitch. Shame, I had such high hopes for him. And for Liverpool too, this was the start of a min-decline that would not see them challenge for league titles for a good few years.
Manchester City 4 Tottenham 1 – Premier League.
18th October 2014
A game remarkable for the steady stream of penalties that flowed throughout, as City continued the recent tradition of hammering Spurs. These games are rarely dull. It was also notable for Sergio Aguero’s rare feat of scoring all four goals. It should have been five.
By the end, Jonathan Moss had awarded four penalties, two of which were saved, and Frank Lampard was stretchered off in the first half with a thigh injury for good measure.
So in order: Aguero fires home from the edge of the area after 12 minutes, Eriksen equalises within two minutes after sloppy play in possession from City, Lampard is fouled and Aguero scores the penalty after 19 minutes, Silva is fouled after 31 minutes but this time Aguero’s penalty is saved, and he somehow manages to scissor-kick the rebound over the bar, Spurs get a penalty after 61 minutes after a non-existent foul but justice is served when Hart saves brilliantly down to his right, then Aguero completes his hat-trick from the spot after he is pulled back in the area by debutant Fazio, who receives a red card, before firing in from the right after 75 minutes to complete the rout, and there was even time for James Milner to hit the post late on. The win kept City in 2nd position, but a good five points behind leaders Chelsea.
Manchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2 – Champions League. 25th November 2014
Occasionally lightning does strike twice. OK, this was not quite a replica of the match the previous season, but it was another rip-roaring comeback from City against top-class opponents, and an important one too.
Truth is, this was not the greatest performance from City, considering they had a man-advantage for much of the game. What was key was something City fans have seen precious little of in the Champions League – namely the opposition making key mistakes to decide the game, rather than City players. As the game wore on, it seemed the ten men of Bayern tired, and Sergio Aguero took full advantage.
It was occasional City target Medhi Benatia who got the red card with no goals on the board, in the days when you could be sent off despite going for the ball. Aguero cleverly got between the ball and Benatia as the Bayern defender slid in, then scored a great penalty, which it needed to be as Neuer went the right way. City did not capitalise on the goal and man advantage however, as first Xavi Alonso equalised from a free kick, making full use of Joe Hart’s crap wall, before Lewandowski headed home a cross. That was all in the first half, and as the game ebbed away it seemed like City’s place in the competition was doing likewise until two rare acts of sloppiness in the Bayern defence saw Sergio burst forward and fire home to complete his hat-trick, in injury time.
Amazingly the win saw City remain bottom of Group E, but with 3 teams on 5 points, the situation was clear – City had a lifeline, but would need to win in Rome to qualify. In fact, with a draw they would have needed to anyway, so the winner was not of great importance, but a last minute winner against Bayern Munich will always feel great.
Roma 0 Manchester City 2 – Champions League
10th December 2014
Talking of important Champions League performances, this one is right up there. And for me, Samir Nasri’s opener in the 2nd half, a wonderful drive that goes in off the near post is one of those memorable moments from an eventful past decade. In a game they had to win, they put in a professional performance the likes of which had been frustratingly rare in this competition. Joe Hart put in another top class European performance to thwart the home side’s occasional threats. Qualification required CSKA Moscow not to match City’s result also, but they meekly surrendered to the already-qualified Bayern Munich, to see City through with some breathing space, and all without Kompany, Yaya Toure or Aguero.
That breathing space didn’t arrive until the last few minutes however, as a rare Pablo Zabaleta goal saw City see out the game with ease. Job done, and a brilliant night, though ultimately once more it would count for little as city once more drew Barcelona, and predictably exited the competition. Nevertheless it was some turnaround to qualify having not won any of the first four group games.
It is rather damning that the second half of the season does not contain a single performance I wish to include in the highlights of Pellegrini’s reign. Not one. I could try and wax lyrical about a 6-0 defeat of QPR, but my heart wouldn’t be in it.
And so onto the slim pickings of Manuel Pellegrini’s final season.
Manchester City 3 Chelsea 0 – Premier League.
30th August 2015.
Mourhino’s Chelsea were put to the sword in the summer sun. In many ways, the sour one’s decline was already under way, this defeat coming in the week that the demotion of physio Eva Caneiro set in motion a shit-storm to outrank most of his previous ones. By the time of the return match (see later), Guus Hiddink would be in charge of a team in 10th place.
This was only the second game of the season, but was an impressive signal of intent, or so we thought, comfortably beating the reigning champions. And in many ways it was a more impressive 6-0 victory, with Asmir Begovic preventing a much heavier defeat.
Eventually Aguero netted the opener, before late in the game Vincent Kompany headed in a 2nd before Fernandinho added the third, proving once more that he only scores really good goals.
It was a historic day for me personally, and many thousands of other blues too, as City won in front of a record crowd at The Etihad – this was the debut match for the new third tier of the South Stand, and my £299 season ticket.
With new signing Raheem Sterling on board, it seemed the future was bright once more. Sadly, that proved not to be the case, yet.
Manchester City 6 Newcastle United 1 – Premier League.
3rd October 2015.
An impressive result for sure, but it appears on this list for one reason alone, and that is due to Sergio Aguero scoring 5 goals in 20 minutes playing time. Amazing too to consider that City trailed in this game as half-time approached, and yet within 20 minutes had scored six times, Kevin De Bruyne briefly interrupting Sergio’s spree. It was a much-needed tonic after the opening 5 game winning run was halted with two successive defeats.
Sevilla 1 Manchester City 3 – Champions League.
3rd November 2015.
For all his faults, Manuel Pellegrini could certainly navigate tricky European ties pretty well, and this result is right up there. In a group that also contained Juventus and Borussia [ctl & v] Mönchengladbach, City had started the campaign in the worst possible fashion, losing at home to Juventus. As it turned out, Juventus would win both legs, whilst city would do the double over Borussia, so the double-header mid-campaign against Sevilla was key for that 2nd qualifying spot. City had already beaten Sevilla in the home leg 2-1, requiring a last-gasp Kevin De Bruyne goal to do so, but with a trip to Turin looming on the horizon, there was still plenty of work to be done.
City would occasionally ride their luck in front of goal, but with Bony and Navas in the team, two players who combined for the third goal, this was a big result over Unai Emery’s team. City were two up within 12 minutes, with goals from Sterling and Fernandinho, and after Sevilla pulled one back, Bony restored the two-goal lead, all the goals coming in the first half. Three vital points.
It proved to be vital in another way too. Despite losing twice to Juventus, City would end up topping the group with 12 points. No Barcelona this time, nor any group winner, and that would help City finally go deep into the tournament.
Manchester City 3 Everton 1 – League Cup.
27th January 2016.
If you were at this match, you will probably remember that the ground buzzed throughout the 90 minutes. For a League Cup match, this game had some atmosphere, and a bit of controversy thrown in for good measure.
Sorry, I should have called it the Capital One Cup.
In between the two legs, the two sides had played out a 0-0 draw at the Etihad that no one remembers. City lost the first leg 2-1, so there was plenty of work to be done. More on that match later.
As with many a City classic it seems, adversity must be followed by triumph, so it was fitting that City contrived to go behind as Ross Barkley was given free licence to waltz forward and fire home. Now it was a real uphill task. But next came a small stroke of luck as a Fernadinho shot deflected over the keeper to level the score.
That’s how it stayed until half-time, and for plenty of the 2nd half. The game turned when Pellegrini came up with the bright idea of bringing on Kevin De Bruyne, and within quarter of an hour he had scored and assisted a goal. His goal however was controversial to say the least, Raheem Sterling cutting the ball back from just over the line. Not spotted by the match officials, and another break for City. City took full advantage as De Bruyne crossed with fifteen minutes left and Sergio glanced a header into the corner. The comeback was complete.
There is little more enjoyable in life than the selective outrage of a rival fan base. In the first leg, City were denied the most blatant of penalties, after Jesus Navas was hacked down by Kevin Mirallas, whilst Everton’s first goal appeared to be offside, and yet you will hear little from Everton fans grateful for the luck they got that night. It was ever thus, and we’d no doubt be the same.
Sadly, the night was not all positive. As the game drew to an end, Kevin De Bruyne was stretchered off with a knee injury, after an innocuous challenge. Thankfully it wasn’t quite as bad as it appeared at the time, but how differently could the league campaign have been without him being absent for over two months? We will never know.
And after more than seven minutes of injury time, the whistle finally blew and City were back at their 2nd home, Wembley.
Manchester City 1 Liverpool 1 – League Cup.
28th February 2016.
Hardly a classic match, but it was a cup final, it was against Liverpool, City lifted the trophy and won yet another penalty shoot-out. It ticks plenty of boxes.
The lead-up to the match was dominated by the debate over whether Caballero should remain as first choice keeper in the competition, or whether City should play their strongest team, meaning recalling Joe Hart. This is a debate that has surrounded City in the competition for many years now, and every manager has kept their promise and picked the back-up keeper, reward for their contribution in previous rounds. And it has never back-fired, least so on this occasion, as Caballero was the penalty shoot-out hero.
City played well, and were denied a clear penalty in the second half, but Fernandinho’s goal, his shot squirming under the body of Mignolet early in the second half was cancelled out by Coutinho with just eight minutes to go. City still had time to miss two sitters before extra-time, during which the deadlock could not be broken, partly due to a brilliant point-blank save by Caballero from a James Milner header. With Kolo Toure coming on for Sakho in the first half for Liverpool, the game was also notable for pitching brother v brother.
And so to the penalty shoot-out, and a 3-1 victory for City. Often overlooked is the fact that it began with an Emre Can panenka, before Fernandinho hit the post. Liverpool’s advantage was short lived. Caballero saved from Leiva, Navas fired home hard and low, Coutinho’s staggered run-up failed as Caballero saved once more, Aguero scored clinically, before amazingly Caballero saved again, his best of the lot, diving to his right to claw away Lallana’s effort. With Yaya Toure up next, the match was as good as decided, and as Yaya went on a solo celebration, Caballero was rightly mobbed by his teammates.
Pellegrini ensured he would average at least a trophy a season during his three years at the club.
Manchester City 1 PSG 0 – Champions League.
12th April 2016
A ground-breaking game in a way, as it signalled City reaching the semi-final of the Champions League for the first time. Perhaps little proved more the occasional randomness of the competition than the fact that City’s most successful Champions League campaign would come under the tutelage of a dead man walking. But hey, that’s cup football for you.
City had seen off Dynamo Kiev in the previous round, due to a comprehensive win in the away leg. In this round, after the 2-2 draw in the 1st leg, this was a game on the edge, a nervy spectacle for all concerned, until up stepped Kevin De Bruyne with a magnificent strike in the 2nd half to assuage all concerns. Concerns that had not been eased by Sergio Aguero planting a first half penalty well wide. Thankfully it was not punished. And Kevin’s goal meant PSG needed to score twice in a short period of time, and that never seemed remotely likely. City were through.
Chelsea 0 Manchester City 3 – Premier League.
16th April 2016
How damning of Pellegrini’s final season that this league highlight came over six months after the previous one. After beginning the season with five consecutive victories, City failed to put together another good run of form, one good result invariably followed soon after by a disappointing one.
In the end this was Leicester City’s season, somehow, and City needed an excruciating final day 1-1 draw at Swansea City to edge out United on goal difference and qualify for the Champions League once more in 4th position.
Anyway, in the end, this comfortable win would prove quite important in the scheme of things, and coming off the back of the PSG win signalled a rare good week during the season, as we all counted down the days until Pep tipped up in Manchester.
Chelsea started fairly brightly, even after Kevin De Bruyne almost set up Sergio for an opener. The man they call “The General” (I’ve no idea who “they” are) cleared brilliantly off the line and Loftus Cheek shot wide. Then City gradually took control, with yet another Sergio Aguero hat-trick. First he fired in from outside the area, then in the 2nd half finished neatly before scoring a penalty after Courtois was dismissed for hacking down Fernandinho when through on goal. And in the end, even Samir Nasri’s bleached hair could not distract from a great result. And the last one of the Pellegrini era, followed as it was by the limp submission in Madrid, that frustrates me to this day.
The Engineer had overseen a mixed three years at City, but hopefully some of the match highlights over the two blogs show that he contributed plenty to City’s history, collecting three trophies and breaking a few records along the way. But now it was time for Pep, and things would never be the same again…..