Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini will not watch Crystal Palace v Liverpool
Understated but shrewd City manager wants to focus only on his own side in the battle for the Premier League title
Manuel Pellegrini called for the DVD some time ago. In that lugubrious way of his, he feigns indifference to all the extraneous details of the next six days, insisting that he will not be watching events at Crystal Palace because "we are not depending on what Liverpool can do."
But even he cannot deny that curiosity has made him view the finale of 13 May 2012: the Joey Barton dismissal, City's mounting panic to make the extra man count, Edin Dzeko's equaliser and then Sergio Aguero, wheeling away in the sunshine, twirling a shirt around his head, after the winner, thus concluding the comeback against Queen's Park Rangers which clinched the title for City.
Pellegrini will not say what he thought of those events, of course. His refusal to embrace any question put to him is a contributory factor to the national indifference about City reclaiming the title. But we have to assume he has stored them away and told his players that they do away with that quintessential City habit of seizing disaster from the jaws of triumph. "City-itis" as former manager Joe Royle always called it.
We saw enough in the clunky, careless, potentially catastrophic nature of the performance at Goodison Park on Saturday evening to suggest that victories over Aston Villa and West Ham in the next six days, on which another title probably hangs, might bring more scares. "I think the supporters would say like me that we don't want to live through that again," Yaya Touré said late on Saturday, after his side had won 3-2 despite themselves.
Yet good, bad or indifferent, wins home and away against Everton – an accomplishment only City have managed this season – tell a story. Roberto Martinez took a long time to locate an answer to the question of which was the best side Everton have played this season – perhaps conjuring the memory of Chelsea's relatively meagre goal threat, Liverpool's annihilation of his team at Anfield, countered by his own side tearing up the neighbours' midfield at Goodison – and he was left only with City. Fearsome attack, powerful midfield, relatively strong defence, will power: no one else has held all those cards.
"I think they were very clinical and there must be something in [the fact that] over the two games, they are the only team that got six points off us," Martinez said. "I do like the way Manuel Pellegrini plays. They have a good structured team, good in possession and they are phenomenal up front. They are well balanced and probably the answer to that is they are the best team we have faced…"
City need a communicative manager more than they think they do. They are privately delighted about the way Pellegrini has cut dead the controversies of Roberto Mancini's era. But they overlook how Everton – who have given full rein to the raw, youthful self-belief of Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and John Stones – feel a lot more attractive than a City who have, bluntly, broken Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules to put themselves where they are today.
City's season has actually been one of great accomplishment, too, if Pellegrini would only allow a little light to shine on the fact. His side, like Chelsea's, has been in transition – fusing new attacking players and embracing a new style of play under a manager who, unlike Jose Mourinho, had never known the Premier League before.
In the rehabilitation of Saturday's matchwinner, Joe Hart, dropped for two painful months in mid-season, Pellegrini has shown Mancini how to do toughness. It is about a year since a doleful Hart, who abhorred Mancini like so many of his team-mates, explained how City adhered to the adage of needing at least eight players performing per game when defending that 2012 title. "It's hard for me to throw massive positives," the goalkeeper said, heart in his boots. Look at Hart now. Make no mistake: Pellegrini restores lost spirits.
He used his many available options shrewdly on Saturday, too. Aguero's departure, with a groin injury did not even trigger the deployment of a replacement striker. A midfielder, Fernandinho, arrived, allowing Touré to shuffle forward, threatening more and destroying Martinez's game plan.
"That affected the game more than you would think," said the Spaniard, whose bench contained two players with one minute's first-team football between them. "That was a bit unfortunate because everything that we prepared for was based on [facing two strikers]." Touré dismissed the notion that his 66th-minute withdrawal meant he was injured. "I'm OK," said City's indestructible one.
The race is not run yet. Michael Laudrup always talked of the La Liga culture of teams not trying in the season's closing matches when they are safe and Pellegrini accepted that Villa and West Ham will present something new. "I don't know what would have happened today if we had won in an easy way," he said. "Maybe people have been talking about Everton not wanting to win to stop Liverpool winning the title. Here in the Premier League you have to fight to the last game."
But he can kill off seasons, as well as conversations. On that crazy May afternoon in 2012, his Malaga needed a win, too, to reach the Champions League. They scored just past the break against Sporting Gijon and never looked back.
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