Manuel Pellegrini cannot remain in denial about his future as Manchester City manager any more.
He says he is “not concerned”, but he has to be as it becomes difficult to see him surviving a summer cull at the Etihad Stadium.
Playing an attractive style might satisfy the most patient of owners, but success matters most – just ask Arsenal fans after their fine football from 2005-2014 produced no major trophies.
And in a results-orientated business, Pellegrini is not delivering the right ones as City have dropped alarmingly to fourth place. He looks a broken man in charge of a team that needs breaking up.
Monday’s 2-1 loss at Crystal Palace was their seventh in 13 in all competitions since January 18, and they have just 18 league points in 2015. That is not good enough for the defending champions.
#cpfc fans serenading Manuel Pellegrini with “you’re getting sacked in the morning”
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) April 6, 2015
Nor are his excuses to justify their faltering form, or reasoning behind big-money signings who have failed to get into the side, let alone improve them. Yes they were unlucky at Palace.
But the hosts won because they were more direct and defiant, and arguably, showed greater heart and hunger to claim victory.
City had the possession and chances, but seemed to mirror the Arsenal of old in trying to walk the ball into the net with intricate passing routines that look pretty, but ultimately lead to nothing thanks to a disappointing final ball.
It was even more frustrating to witness that in the closing stages when, with time running out, international-class players seemed reluctant, perhaps scared, to shoot.
That clearly brings into question whether they can cope with the pressure to perform at this level, or they have peaked already.
Pellegrini’s predecessor Roberto Mancini, sacked after failing to retain the title in 2013, was criticised for airing his oft-damning opinions of individuals in public.
He hoped that it would produce a response, to galvanise the whole team to perform to the higher standards expected following their rise to the top.
It was a tough-love approach that was once part of the norm, but now managers are in the firing line, not players, and performances on the pitch speak volumes when it comes to backing the boss.
Like Pellegrini, his City side cannot hide behind unfortunate refereeing decisions, which would not have mattered if they had been ruthless in front of goal or tighter at the back.
The 169th Manchester derby is timely, giving them the opportunity to unite and launch a late winning run that was expected, but has yet to materialise. Or confirm this is the end for many who etched their name in City’s folklore with trophy triumphs.
With an average age of 29 years and 345 days, City fielded the second oldest starting XI on show in the Premier League at the weekend against Palace, and so change is inevitable with a need for youth. It is merely a question of who will stay, or who will have to go.
Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford will be a factor in the outcome.
With United buoyant after five straight league wins took them third and a point above City, it will provide Pellegrini and his men with the right challenge, at the right time.
It will not only be a test of his credentials and their quality and character, but career prospects. It will indicate who cares and who is committed to the club’s cause to shape a better future.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique insists he is not worried by Neymar’s dip in form ahead of the league leaders’ home meeting with struggling Almeria tonight.
The Brazilian winger has dazzled at times this season but has been well below his best of late, failing to score in La Liga for nearly two months.
Neymar was particularly out of sorts in Sunday’s narrow victory at Celta Vigo, and his frustration became evident as television cameras spotted him blowing his nose in the face of opposing marker Hugo Mallo.
But Enrique said: “I’m not worried about him. He is out of this world as a player. The way he trains, I’m sure the goals will come back. He gives a lot of important things to the team.”
Most outsiders will regard tonight’s contest as a foregone conclusion against a team which is third from bottom after going seven games without a victory, but Enrique believes his team’s task could be complicated by the fact that Almeria will be led by a new manager, his former Barca teammate Sergi Barjuan.
Neymar in a charity match. https://t.co/cIZ2HT557m
— Football Vines (@Vine_Football) April 3, 2015
“It’s hard to know whether they’ll change, because Sergi will only have had one session with them,” said Enrique.
“But a change of manager can give a team fresh impetus and that is dangerous for us.”
Enrique will be without Sergio Busquets, who appeared to get himself deliberately booked by wasting time in the latter stages of Sunday’s win over Celta Vigo, prompting home midfielder Fabian Orellana to throw turf at Busquets and subsequently receive a straight red card.
Busquets misses tonight but is then back for Saturday’s trip to Sevilla.
Ricardo Rodriguez scored from the spot as Wolfsburg beat Freiburg 1-0 in the quarter-finals of the DFB Pokal (German Cup).