Pep Guardiola announcement has derailed our season, says Manuel Pellegrini
Chelsea 0 Manchester City 3
Manuel Pellegrini has admitted that Manchester City's decision to confirm that Pep Guardiola will replace him as manager played a major factor in the club falling out of the Premier League title race as players momentarily lost their focus.
City secured their third successive league victory, as Sergio Aguero netted a brilliant hat-trick against Chelsea, whose goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, was sent off late on. The result maintained City's momentum ahead of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, but also underlined regret that Pellegrini's team had already fallen too far behind to challenge for the title.
Pellegrini believes City's chances of winning the league ended in February after the club confirmed that Guardiola would replace him in the summer. The team then lost back-to-back games against the top two Leicester and Tottenham as talk over which players would come and go intensified.
Asked if he was frustrated that City's victory over Chelsea did not mean anything in terms of the title race, Pellegrini said: "Frustrated, of course, because we never expected to lose those games at home against Leicester and Tottenham. But there are a lot of reasons why those things happened. It's not normal in the way we are going to finish the season.
"At the start of February, there was news about a change of the manager, about players who will not continue here next season, about a lot of things involved in the minds of all the players.
"It's not easy for the players when you read in newspapers all things that will happen next season, all the players who will go out, all the players that will come in. It's not easy for the players to focus their mind. In February, we were involved in all the competitions, in the Champions League, we won the Capital One Cup, we were forced to leave the FA Cup and we were three points behind the leaders."
Having seen his players rediscover their focus, Pellegrini is confident City can now finish the season strongly and get past Madrid to reach the Champions League final.
"We had those defeats at home, but now we are stable again and very happy to finish playing the way we have in these last games," said Pellegrini. "I think the merit of this squad is always that it had a lot of character, personality. We never give up, we continue in the same way and I am sure this team, playing in this way, can play in the final [of the Champions League]. We must try to finish now playing this way, trying to be as near as possible at the top of the table, trying to play the final of the Champions League."
While much of the focus on City's Champions League semi-final will revolve around how Pellegrini's defence will stop Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Aguero's display proved the Spaniards will have to be on their guard.
Aguero has now scored 21 league goals and Pellegrini believes the Argentine would be spoken of in the same terms as Ronaldo if his fitness record was better. "One of the most important things for Kun is to try and play the whole season," said Pellegrini. "I think this season he made a mistake playing for his national squad when he had some muscle problems, that meant he couldn't play for five or six games."
Other than Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne was superb on his first return to Stamford Bridge since leaving them permanently in January 2014.
The Belgian only returned from two months out with a knee and ankle injury at the beginning of the month, but has already scored goals against Bournemouth and Paris Saint-Germain and assisted Aguero's opener against Chelsea.
"One of the merits of Kevin De Bruyne is to come back from a long and difficult injury, returning to such a high performance," said Pellegrini. (© Daily Telegraph, London)