Pellegrini: Last season we may have thought some games were easy
It was the way Manuel Pellegrini smiled when he told the assembled journalists that 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. They were even more certain that before next May, the Manchester City manager would be eased out to smooth the way for Pep Guardiola.
That may yet happen, but what is clear is that, with a newly-extended contract, Pellegrini is very much more than just a stopgap.
He begins his third season as Manchester City manager at West Bromwich Albion tonight 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 of campaigns that both began with victories over Newcastle.
"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, 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 to whom they conceded them. Chelsea dropped two points against the three relegated sides, Manchester City managed to spill 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 absolutely convinced that to attack is the best way."
And it is that attack that will be most closely studied at the Hawthorns tonight. Given that he has played no part in pre-season because of the Copa America - won, as Pellegrini predicted, by Chile - it is hard to see Sergio Aguero starting against West Bromwich. This is especially so since City face Chelsea on Sunday.
Wilfried Bony will probably start, with most eyes on the man playing alongside him. After the most expensive, and sometimes the nastiest, transfer of any English player, this will be Raheem Sterling's first proper outing in a Manchester 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 Toure and Kun Aguero will help him improve. He will score more goals than he did at Liverpool last season." Since he managed seven, his manager was not setting the bar especially high. (© Independent News Service)
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