Monday 18 November 2019

Desperate Pellegrini clutching at straws

Tottenham 0 Manchester city 1

Martin Demichelis of Manchester City tackles Tottenham’s Harry Kane yesterday
Martin Demichelis of Manchester City tackles Tottenham’s Harry Kane yesterday
Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring Manchester City's winning goal
Tottenham's Christian Eriksen in action with Manchester City's Frank Lampard

Jeremy Wilson

The Stamford Bridge celebration party was already in full swing by the time of kick-off across London at White Hart Lane but Manuel Pellegrini still made a futile attempt to pour cold water into all the champagne being drunk in Chelsea.

While City goalkeeper Joe Hart congratulated Chelsea, especially for being front-runners all season, Pellegrini, a bitter rival of Jose Mourinho since they were in opposition in La Liga, did not.

Asked about the distance between Manchester City and Jose Mourinho's new champions, Pellegrini opted against any words of congratulations and instead comforted himself with a pointed and rather sour reference to last season.

"I'm not thinking about the gap," he said. "Chelsea did what we did. They won the Premier League and the Capital One Cup. We did the same with more goals in another style.

"It is important for the Premier League and the fans to play attractive football. We scored 158 goals. We scored 102 in the Premier League. We are still the top scoring team this season. I hope we can continue as we have."

Pellegrini then recalled how Chelsea had shipped five goals on this ground earlier in the season and repeatedly complimented Tottenham Hotspur's attractive style of football.

The attempted comparison with Mourinho's pragmatism seemed obvious, as did the sense that Pellegrini has been emboldened by the now virtual guarantee of Champions League football next season.

His clenched fists inside the away dugout on the final whistle certainly suggested this was far from an unwanted consolation prize and perhaps also hinted at a personal lifeline.

A season of underachievement cannot be disguised simply by a top four finish but there has been a school of thought inside the Etihad Stadium that, having won the Premier League last year, Pellegrini deserved another chance as long as City achieved the bare minimum of remaining in Europe's elite.


This win means that this is certain, barring the near impossible scenario of City losing their next three games and Liverpool winning theirs while also reversing a 24-goal swing.

With Manchester United losing on Saturday, City actually now ought to go at least one better by finishing in the top three to ensure they will also avoid an unwanted Champions League play-off in August. They are also certain to be active this summer in the transfer window.

City's first priority should be to ensure that Sergio Aguero does not get any serious thoughts of a better future elsewhere. He was the outstanding player on display here and, in scoring a brilliant winner, also won the individual battle between the league's two leading goalscorers.

Aguero has now scored 28 goals in 30 games this season and has also opened a two-goal lead over Harry Kane in the race to be the Premier League's golden boot.

Yet, while Aguero provided the decisive cutting edge, City's spine looked fragile in the absence through injury of both Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure.

Eliaquim Mangala has rarely remotely looked like a £42m centre-back this season and his -positioning twice almost cost City in the opening minutes.

First, Eric Dier completely evaded his attention from a corner before wastefully guiding his header wide and then Kane exploited space in City's defence only to also drag his attempted finish off target.

City were absorbing plenty of -pressure and possession but their pace and precise passing on the counter-attack still meant that they were soon creating the better chances.

A cross by Aleksandar Kolarov was met with a first-time volley by Aguero that whistled only a few feet above the crossbar.

City's winner soon followed direct from a Tottenham corner, with Hart quickly clearing to David Silva whose perfectly weighted through-ball released Aguero.

With Tottenham's defence caught square, Aguero simply finished brilliantly into the top corner of Lloris' near-post.

Tottenham maintained their high intensity at the start of the second half but still lacked City's guile in the final third.

At least, the Spurs fans found one small reason to rejoice by the end of a frustrating 90 minutes.

Samir Nasri, formerly of Arsenal, had been greeted by jeers when he came on as a substitute and was to depart literally seconds later to gleeful cheers after suffering a groin injury.

With Chelsea dominant at the top of the league, it had been a day for straw-clutching.

As with City, a season full of hope for Tottenham is petering out with expectations having to be lowered.

The annual quest to break into the top four looks like ending, again, with the dubious consolation of a Europa League place.

"I am very disappointed with the result, but the performance was very good," said manager Mauricio Pochettino. "We managed the game, the tempo and created more chances, but we didn't score and if you don't do that it is hard to win the game." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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