Commentary

Pellegrini's plan to wing it pays off

I am not sure that anyone was quite as critical as me with Manchester City's approach in Europe last season. I was horrified by how they allowed teams - and in particular Barcelona - to storm through their midfield. It was naive and extremely annoying.

How wonderful, then, to see that Manuel Pellegrini has learnt from his mistakes. This was a performance where you could see the hard work and attention to detail put in at the training ground. You could see the players had been given a plan of action and that they had what it takes to execute it.

The Chilean had to find a way to allow his wide players the freedom to attack and not be bogged down by being overly mindful of their defensive duties. There is little point in spending the big money on wingers if they are not allowed to do what they do best.

I have great sympathy for wide men. They are the most put-upon member of any team. We expect them to have pace, to skip past defenders, to help out their full-backs and their thanks is usually to be substituted.

Wingers are taken off more than any other player and if the result goes the wrong way, they are usually blamed for lack of work rate or for tiring or forgetting their defensive duties. This is what Eden Hazard has suffered this season but that he has is not so surprising; it is the fate of many a winger.

Wingers have the toughest job in football but, if you own some of the best ones, some of the most expensive ones, then you simply have to find a way to tap into their talents.

City, though, showed (on Tuesday) that if you spend the big money on a winger - and it is wingers who command the huge fees now, rather than strikers - then you have to use them properly. Pellegrini did this. Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas played with freedom and Seville were flummoxed.

Sterling and Navas both had Fernando to thank for that freedom. The Brazilian is not very creative and rarely catches the eye, but his diligence gave his team the ability to flood forward.

Wingers have the toughest job in football but, if you own some of the best ones, some of the most expensive ones, then you simply have to find a way to tap into their talents.

This was the best I have seen City play in Europe and the performance of Sterling reminded me of the way in which Gareth Bale ran at Inter Milan in 2010 for Spurs.

Sterling is the best young player in Europe and it was a joy to see his team tactically work out how to let him shine. Inevitably he was taken off in the second half but not with anyone doubting his worth to the side. If you outwit a team with Sevilla's European pedigree, your wingers will be tired, but applauded.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2015, with the headline 'Pellegrini's plan to wing it pays off'. Print Edition | Subscribe