Wednesday 21 February 2018

Pellegrini still sees positives as woeful City fall short again

Stoke 2-0 Man City

Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic acknowledges fans after the game
Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic acknowledges fans after the game
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: 'If you want to talk about this game, of course I am disappointed. If you want to talk about this season, we are the only team involved in all the competitions'

John Percy

Manuel Pellegrini's long-term job prospects at Manchester City appear as flimsy as the plastic shopping bags that were being blown around the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

While he continues to stress that City are the only Premier League club alive in all competitions, Pellegrini cannot escape the shadow of Pep Guardiola, who seems destined for Manchester next season.

Guardiola's contract stalemate at Bayern Munich is the sword of Damocles hanging over Pellegrini's head and performances like this one at Stoke will do little to damage the theory that this will be his final season in charge.

Let's get one thing straight - Stoke were brilliant, they have a talented squad capable of finishing in the top six and manager Mark Hughes deserves huge credit for a remarkable job.

But their opponents were simply woeful and while Pellegrini's complaints about injuries do carry some weight, he still spent more than £150m on players in the summer, with the high-profile recruits all playing at Stoke.

Stoke and England goalkeeper Jack Butland offered a honest assessment of City's performance and admitted Liverpool's 4-1 win at the Etihad last month was the blueprint.

"I think they were probably quite embarrassed at the end. Were they devastated? Yes, they just didn't know what to do," he said.

"They had no options, we set up really well to stop them playing and they really couldn't live with us. That is testament to the lads and the way they set up to stop them causing any problems.

"We have looked at teams that caused Manchester City trouble - Liverpool were one of them, Southampton were to some extent and also Tottenham.

"We looked at what had caused them problems and took it on board with a very good performance. Full credit to the management for changing things up."

Pellegrini's City have now failed to score in the last three league games away from home and the return of Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure from injury cannot come quickly enough.

Their performances remain so maddeningly unpredictable, from the highs of victories over Chelsea and Newcastle to the lows of defeats against Liverpool and Stoke.

Pellegrini said: "If you want to talk about this game, of course I am disappointed. If you want to talk about this season, we are the only team involved in all the competitions.

"Of course losing like we did against Stoke or against Liverpool is not the way a big team must do it, but I cannot be disappointed.

"I think that is the merit of the squad. We want to be in the position that we are.

"I think we have a lot of injuries and that is why we had this defeat."

There is a running joke at Stoke that media coverage of famous victories always focuses on the frailties of their opponents, but this was a stirring afternoon and proof of the progress under Hughes.

This was only Stoke's second win against City in 13 Premier League meetings, but could not have been more convincing.


Stoke brutally exposed all of City's weaknesses across the field and dominated the game with a performance of verge and vigour.

Hughes' brave formation, utilising Bojan as essentially a lone striker, with Marko Arnautovic (below), Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Afellay wreaking havoc behind, was also handsomely rewarded.

Shaqiri's first moment of brilliance to create Arnautovic's opener after six minutes set the tone and then the £12m signing went even better with a sublime turn and pass to manufacture the second goal.

It could have been even worse and it is no exaggeration to state that Arnautovic should have had at least four goals.

It was perfect timing from the Austrian as he prepares for talks with the Stoke hierarchy over a new contract.

Hughes said: "Marko used to claim that he enjoyed creating goals, rather than scoring - I thought that was a load of rubbish.

"I never had that feeling, there is no better feeling than scoring a goal. I think Marko is beginning to get that feeling now.

"He's a big part of what we do here."

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