Pel­le­grini de­fends his team se­lec­tion ahead of Real test

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Jeremy Wil­son

Manuel Pel­le­grini has claimed that he acted in Manch­ester City’s best in­ter­ests by rest­ing so many star play­ers against Southamp­ton ahead of Wed­nes­day’s Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal against Real Madrid – and is adamant that he would take the same gam­ble again.

City made eight changes from the team who held Madrid to a goal­less draw in the first leg, with Pel­le­grini claim­ing that he could have fielded a dif­fer­ent team had City been granted their wish to play this match on Satur­day.

Southamp­ton would also have been happy to make the switch in sup­port of City’s Euro­pean am­bi­tions but, pro­vid­ing there is a win­dow of at least two days, the fi­nal de­ci­sion on sched­ul­ing lies with the broad­cast­ers.

“I’m very dis­ap­pointed – it was the same play­ers who played other games,” said Pel­le­grini. “We knew be­fore the game it was a risk to put so many play­ers with­out foot­ball against a dif­fi­cult team but we have to take those risks. If we had played on Satur­day we could put more play­ers out. I was dis­ap­pointed with the team. It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity for the start­ing XI. I al­ways say the best way to pre­pare for the next game is to win – and that’s why we did so well be­fore Paris St- Ger­main.”

With Pel­le­grini leav­ing at the end of the sea­son, there could be a sus­pi­cion that he is pri­ori­tis­ing the Cham­pi­ons League over qual­i­fi­ca­tion for next sea­son, when Pep Guardi­ola will be in charge.

Asked if the de­ci­sion to rest so many play­ers was the right one, he said: “Yes. I would do ex­actly the same again be­cause we have an im­por­tant game. We play for the fi­nal in the Cham­pi­ons League. We con­tinue in the Pre­mier League what we are go­ing to do in the next two games to be in the top four, so that was a risk but one we had to take.”

Southamp­ton man­ager Ron­ald Koe­man de­scribed his team’s per­for­mance as “fan­tas­tic” but re­vealed that Graziano Pellè, the Italy striker, had been dropped as a re­sult of his train­ing-ground per­for­mances. “I was not happy about the in­ten­sity of Graziano this week,” he said. “I like to be straight with ev­ery­body. We will see what hap­pens next week.”

Koe­man added: “You can talk about the changes of Man City in the team, but that’s not fair. Give all the credit to Southamp­ton be­cause the per­for­mance to­day was fan­tas­tic. We’re al­ways con­fi­dent to beat our op­po­nents, maybe a lit­tle more when we’re at home.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to deal with a Pre­mier League game be­tween two huge games against Real Madrid. They still need more points to fin­ish fourth but that’s not my re­spon­si­bil­ity. It’s nor­mal that maybe there’s a lit­tle bit less fo­cus. Even if City had started with their best team, we had pos­si­bil­i­ties to win be­cause we were at our best this af­ter­noon.”

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