Pep talk haunts City

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

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.

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