Engineering works

Posted by Simon Curtis

Manuel Pellegrini has had little time to come to terms with the hurly-burly of the Premier League: the helter-skelter, the thud and blunder, the tired, bruised ball and the gasping spectators. He is not the youngest coach to arrive on the shores of Albion to try his luck in the richest casino in world football. Transition can be a chore; it can seem like an impossible job that will never quite be complete. In a world where time passes faster than most, where you are king one day and a pauper the next, the Barclays Premier League can be an exacting place to decide to test yourself at the age of 60.

So it came to pass that Pellegrini approached the weekend game for his charges with a number of weighty question marks hanging over his head. Could he hack it? Would he take an axe, a saw or a chisel to keeper Joe Hart? Who else would survive the midweek runaround from Bayern Munich in the Champions League? What would his side's reaction be to two consecutive defeats and six goals in the wrong net?

The Everton game has answered a few of those questions succinctly and conclusively. Firstly, it is apparent to all that Pellegrini is a man best described as "calm." Not for him the technical area gymnastics enjoyed by some of his colleagues; not for him the maroon-faced rant at the fourth official; not for him the high swinging boot at the water bottles when yet another chance sails harmlessly over the bar. This is a man who does his shouting behind closed doors. In fact, it is sometimes tempting to ask whether he does any shouting at all. Well, we were led to believe that shouting had indeed been heard after the melodramatic cave-in at Villa Park seven days ago and again after the whitewash in the Champions League. So perhaps that deep, bass voice of his does tremble toward falsetto occasionally.

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- Report: Pellegrini: "Difficult" to select Hart

Whether the volume ever went above "gently persuasive," we will probably never know, but the effect has been spot on. Everton, City's jinx club for several years, playing attractive, one-touch football under progressive coach Roberto Martinez, would once again do their level best to give City a distinct pain in the back end. Or would they? One good side of being new to all this is that you are not exactly bothered by long-running jinxes and royal blue-tinted hexes. Where Roberto Mancini might well have been spraying the dressing room with holy water before a game like this, pacing around muttering curses to himself in Italian couplets, Pellegrini took it all in his stride.

Even Hart survived the cull, but six of his teammates did not.

City started the match like nothing untoward had happened against Villa and Bayern. The fluidity was there, the bite and the passion accompanied it in generous amounts. That Everton scored first, Hart getting a hand to Romelu Lukaku's strike, only served to refocus minds. The response was as immediate as it was chilling in its delivery. David Silva, back to add crucial imagination and wit to the middle of the park, played a delightful jink to Yaya Toure, whose ball through to Alvaro Negredo had the deftness of touch rarely associated with the brute force of the big man in midfield.

A word to the wise here about the unseen power in City's middle orders, for, as Silva and Toure, aided by the pugnacious James Milner, took the game deeper and deeper into Everton territory as the game wore on, so Fernandinho closed ranks on the energetic Ross Barkley, snuffing out the first-half threat from the Toffees' teenage dangerman. Those who have seen Everton's early rise up the table this season will know how influential the youngster has been, but at the Etihad he was forced into perhaps his poorest game of the season so far, thanks to the tenacious battling of City's little Brazilian terrier.

So, the Engineer tinkered and got the motor purring beautifully again. Staying loyal to Hart, bringing back Silva, resting Jesus Navas for Milner and firing the raging bull Negredo into the Everton ranks in place of the placid Edin Dzeko, all smacked of a man calmly going about his business in the interests of moving through the gears without any more spanners being thrown in the works. What Pellegrini's changes produced were a slick and polished dismantling of the division's only unbeaten side.

Well before the end, Everton had run out of ideas and hope and were waiting for the hapless official, Mr. Card of Great Bookham, to propel some air through his whistle. They had been outfought, out-thought and out-manoeuvred by a team under great pressure to show that they can cope with life at the top of the division. Thanks to the man in control of the tools, the machine runs smoothly on into autumn and the new challenges ahead.


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