Manuel Pellegrini has denied Jose Mourinho’s superior tactics were the reason for Chelsea’s win at Manchester City last week and has defiantly insisted he will use the same set-up when the two sides meet in the FA Cup fifth round.
Mourinho’s side swung the momentum of the Premier League title race away from City with their 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium 12 days ago.
Injuries to Fernandinho and Javi Garcia, plus the lack of fitness of James Milner and Jack Rodwell, meant City manager Pellegrini was forced to use defender Martin Demichelis in central midfield alongside Yaya Touré. Chelsea won thanks to a fine effort from Branislav Ivanovic and also hit the woodwork on three occasions as they broke time and again to devastating effect, leaving City’s midfield wide open.
Last week’s suggestion that Chelsea were a “rich little horse” was the only time that Pellegrini, whose side face Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, has felt it necessary to respond to Mourinho’s regular observations about City. On Friday he again refused to be drawn into a verbal battle with the Chelsea manager, who has won seven and lost just one of nine meetings between the two managers, whose paths first crossed when the Portuguese replaced Pellegrini at Real Madrid in 2010.
But he drew the line at acknowledging that his tactics were the reason for his side’s loss and has promised to stick with a 4-4-2 shape, with Garcia likely to partner Touré in midfield.
“I am absolutely sure that in the previous game it was not a problem with tactics,” Pellegrini said. “The squad had a lot of changes and we had three or four clear chances before they scored. If we’d scored we could have scored again.
“The goal they got, he [Ivanovic] does not find it easy to shoot with his left foot – but he did it in that game. If we’d scored first the result could have been different but the tactics would have been the same.
“I don’t have any concerns,” Pellegrini said, “we know exactly the way Chelsea attack and the way they defend. I think it’s more important for me if we score goals. If we scored one goal we’d have drawn that game, if we’d got one against Norwich we’d have won it. I repeat, I will continue to think exactly in the same way – it’s important to score and defend well.
“We have a style of play that we don’t change depending on whom we play. I don’t think it is a reason to change the way we play. We had 64 per cent average of possession of the ball [against Chelsea]. You can recover against Chelsea, you don’t have that against Barcelona or Bayern [Munich].
“It’s important to be balanced when you are attacking, not just with defensive midfielders.”
The arrival of around 20 Spanish journalists for Friday’s press conference was further confirmation that the Chelsea game is not the only significant match at the Etihad in the coming days.
Bizarrely, the only time Pellegrini seemed to be amused was in an exchange with one of the visiting press about the circumstances of his sacking by Real as he discussed various issues surrounding the meeting with Barcelona.
Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are expected to be absent once again for the last-16 first-leg match but Pellegrini has been boosted by the return of Samir Nasri from a knee problem and the Frenchman could feature against Chelsea.
With City still involved in four competitions, they could have as many as 25 more matches this season following the postponement of Wednesday’s game against Sunderland. But the prospect of a major backlog of fixtures is not a major worry for their manager.
“It may be a concern but I’d prefer to have that concern if it means we stay in all the competitions,” Pellegrini said. “Maybe if we don’t continue in the FA Cup or the Champions League, we’ll have midweeks to play but I’d prefer to stay in and then be concerned about when we will play those matches.
“We come from two months where we play nine games each in December and January. I think maybe the team felt a little bit those amount of games and in that sense it was useful for us to rest a little bit more [with the Sunderland game being off].”