By Karl Matchett.
Less than a month ago, this very same column looked at Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini and, in assessing the state of play in the Premier League, determined it would be nothing short of an by the boss if he didn't lead his team to the title and by some distance.
Since then, things haven't gotten noticeably better for the 2014 title winners, losing to both Stoke City and Arsenal in the league and now sitting in third place, six points off top spot and having won only three of their last eight in the competition. With title rivals Arsenal having taken the points on Monday night, question marks really have to be asked now whether Pellegrini is capable of galvanising the team to success over the rest of the season-and with at least one, potentially two top managers available this summer, he can have zero reasons to be unhappy if City opt to usurp him from his role.
While City can point to being without the likes of Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta for the game, Arsenal were without far more first team options-Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin being the three most key names-and with Leicester City also still flying high at the top of the table, this was a notable defeat for Pellegrini.
Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Stoke and now the Gunners have all taken points off City in one competition or another over the past couple of months, which is essentially every "big" or significant opponent that Pellegrini's team have faced. Borussia Moenchengladbach are the only reasonable-sized and in-form club that City have vanquished in months, arguably dating back to the 3-0 win over Chelsea-and even that win may not feasibly count, given how that particular opponent has fared since then.
City are a team of expensive acquisitions, players of pedigree and names who most of Europe's top sides would be happy to take off their hands, but together they have not been moulded into a seamless or consistent model of success by the Chilean at the helm.
Two managers available, one now, one in summer.
Jose Mourinho has departed Chelsea and is an option for City, though perhaps seems destined for elsewhere-but Pep Guardiola, staying at Bayern Munich until the summer when he will leave the Bavarians to be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti, will be an extremely attractive proposition for City's owners.
Guardiola has the cache, the reputation, the history of success and the name to which players will be attracted in future transfer windows; add to those traits that he has previously worked with City Director of Football Txiki Begiristain while at Barcelona and it's easy to read between the lines and suggest that the Etihad Stadium hot-seat is ready-made for Guardiola.
Whichever way City opt to go, Pellegrini has no room for manoeuvre if he fails to land the title after a £150 million outlay in the summer on top names in key positions, especially after a lack of silverware last season and little European progress. There's another point which could go against Pellegrini; when he replaced Roberto Mancini, one of the club's reasons for moving the Italian on were that they wanted a manager who would take a holistic approach, part of which included bringing through the younger talents at the club.
Kelechi Iheanacho might have seen a little game time this term due to injuries in attack, but there has been precious little action for anyone else-excluding £49 million Raheem Sterling, City's players aged 21 and under this season account for 352 minutes of game time between them, with 275 of those falling to striker Iheanacho.Â
Pellegrini isn't bringing through youth players and he isn't waltzing toward the title-or even keeping contenders at bay, despite huge outlays on new stars. In short, he isn't offering any compelling reason to stick with him while other top names are available.
It's a recipe for replacement for the Chilean and he can offer no argument when City decide to swing the axe if Guardiola gives the slightest inclination that he wants to make that his next stop after Bayern.