West Bromwich Albion vs Manchester City preview: Manuel Pellegrini eager to prove he is not a stopgap

What particularly concerned Pellegrini was the number of goals they conceded and against whom they conceded them

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The Independent Online

It was the way Manuel Pellegrini smiled when he told the assembled journalists it was “nice to see all of you again” that betrayed his satisfaction at starting a third season with Manchester City.

There were some in that room at the Etihad training complex who were convinced he would have been long gone by now. They were even more certain that before next May he would be eased out for Pep Guardiola. That may yet happen, but what seems clear is that, with a newly extended contract, Pellegrini is very much more than a stopgap.

So, at West Bromwich Albion, he is armed with more of the commodity that any manager requires to be successful – experience.

Pellegrini’s time at the Etihad has been portrayed as a happy, seamless debut season that saw him win the championship at his first attempt, followed by a fractious second in which he was always a couple of bad results from the sack.

That is not how he remembers it. “For me, the first season was more difficult than the second,” Pellegrini said.

 

“I had just arrived in England amid all the speculation and I had a duty to replace a manager [Roberto Mancini] who was loved by the fans and who had won titles. The first season was much more successful than the second, but for me it was much more difficult.” He added: “Football is about experience. The longer you are in charge of a team, the more you learn about your players. Last season was very strange for me because I still don’t understand why we had such bad results after January. After winning more away games than anyone else, we only won one of the next four.”

What particularly concerned Pellegrini was the number of goals they conceded and against whom they conceded them. Chelsea dropped two points against the three relegated sides, Manchester City 11. “Maybe we need to play with more concentration,” said Pellegrini. “Sometimes, last season we may have thought some games were easy and there are no easy games in the Premier League.

“We were not a disaster at defending, but conceding 38 goals in 38 games is too many. A team that wants to win the title should not concede more than 30 or 31. There are a lot of things we expect to improve this season but there will be no change to the style of play because I am convinced that to attack is the best way.”

And it is that attack that will be most closely studied at the Hawthorns. Given that Sergio Aguero has played no part in pre-season because of the Copa America – won, as Pellegrini predicted, by his Chilean compatriots on home soil – it is hard to see the Argentina forward starting against West Bromwich. This is especially so since City face Chelsea on Sunday.

Most eyes will be on the man playing alongside Wilfried Bony. After the most expensive transfer of any English player, this will be Raheem Sterling’s first competitive outing in a City shirt. “You always talk about the price but it is for an English player who is 20 and has quality, speed and technique,” said Pellegrini. “Playing alongside Yaya Touré and Kun Aguero will help him improve. He will score more goals than he did at Liverpool last season.” He got seven, so his manager  was not setting the bar especially high.

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