Pep talk haunts City
MANCHESTER — Manchester City may come to regret their decision to announce Pep Guardiola’s appointment as manager four months before Manuel Pellegrini relinquishes charge of the Premier League club.
City are still in contention to win four trophies but their form in the two weeks since they confirmed Guardiola’s arrival in July has raised questions about their ability to mark Pellegrini’s departure with silverware.
Successive home defeats by leaders Leicester City and second placed Tottenham Hotspur have left City six points off the pace with serious doubts about whether their expensively-assembled squad is still playing for the manager.
Backed by the wealth of Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, City are proving that all the money in the world cannot guarantee success on the field.
Pellegrini, who guided City to the Premier League title and League Cup victory in 2014, was honest enough after the 2-1 loss to Spurs on Sunday to admit his team had been beaten by the better side.
He defiantly suggested, however, that they could still win the title even though they have taken only one point out of 15 this season from matches against Leicester, Spurs and Arsenal, the three teams above them.
“We will see at the end of the season which is the best team,” he said, “but the first problem is our team.
“We need to improve on a lot of things. We have 36 points more to play for. I think all the teams will lose more points from now until the end of the season but when you don’t depend just on what you do of course it’s more difficult.”
City have a number of world-class players on their books, including striker Sergio Aguero, midfielder Yaya Toure and defender Vincent Kompany who returned to the side against Tottenham after six weeks out injured.
“There is not a chance we will give up on the title. We have to improve,” said Pellegrini. They need to do so quickly. City face rejuvenated Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round at Stamford Bridge on Sunday before a taxing trip to Ukraine and the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie against Dynamo Kiev.
Four days later they play Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley and meet the same opponents at Anfield in the League three days later.
Adverse results over the next two weeks could signal the end of a four-pronged trophy assault and condemn Pellegrini to a painful farewell before Guardiola arrives with a huge
All eyes have been on Leicester’s remarkable rise to the top of the table, after being bottom and facing relegation a year ago, and Tottenham’s steady progress this season has been overshadowed by The Foxes’ remarkable transformation.
But Spurs’ young team, responding to coach Mauricio Pochettino’s high-pressing philosophy — “part crack Army unit, part dance troop” as The Times called them on Saturday — occupy their highest position at this stage of a season since 1985.
A 53rd minute Harry Kane penalty and an 83rd minute strike by Christian Eriksen on his 24th birthday gave Spurs a fifth successive league win and moved them four points clear of City.
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, now a pundit for Sky Sports, said Tottenham could complete the most remarkable Premier League story of all if Leicester fail to win the title.
“All season Leicester and Claudio Ranieri has been the story — it would be perhaps the greatest story ever in football in this country if Leicester were to win the league.
“If that doesn’t happen and Tottenham win the league, I think that’ll be the biggest story in Premier League history...
“If you look at the title winners, you expect them to spend big money but Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino have not done that and if they win the league it will also be the best managerial performance in the Premier League’s history.”
Former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry also praised his old enemies, saying: “They didn’t start the season all that well, but they stayed calm, no-one panicked, they stayed cool... Now they look like a team... that can win the league. You have to give the manager and his board the credit.”
Spurs last won the title in 1961, when they were the first English club in the 20th century to claim a league and FA Cup double, since when success has been confined to European and domestic cups.
The last time they finished second in the table was in 1963 and they have never finished third in the Premier League era.
No-one at Spurs, least of all Pochettino, talks of the title but with each win it is becoming an increasing possibility. — Reuters
Manchester city have not been the same again since the club announced last month that Pep Guardiola is taking over as coach next season.