Manuel Pellegrini has claimed Manchester City have overtaken Manchester United as the dominant force in their city this season.
The City manager was asked about the strengths of both clubs as he prepared his side for first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona. City head into tonight’s clash at the Etihad Stadium still in contention in four competitions, while traditional powerhouses United have endured a difficult campaign.
The Chilean, speaking at his pre-match press conference, said: “If we only consider this season, there is just one club in Manchester and it’s ours, but you cannot forget what United has done in the previous years. We are aiming to keep growing by winning many trophies, not just national but international trophies. We are fighting for four titles this year. We have to be patient because you cannot change the team from one day to another. We have to keep the philosophy of the style and for that you need time.”
City’s title ambitions suffered a knock as they were beaten by Chelsea a fortnight ago and were then held to a goalless draw at Norwich. But they restored confidence by turning the tables on Chelsea to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. That cup win also provided vindication for Pellegrini after vowing to stick to his attacking principles.
He now intends to do the same as Barca visit Eastlands. He said: “When you play Barcelona, against an important team, you must always consider important things – but the most important thing is to try to be the same team you see every week in the Premier League. It is important to continue having the same style of play and the personality to try to beat Barcelona.”
City are lifted by the potential return of Fernandinho after a fortnight out with a muscle strain. The Brazilian trained ahead of the match and could resume his impressive midfield partnership with Yaya Toure.
On the downside for City, top scorer Sergio Aguero remains out with a hamstring injury.
That also deprives fans of the chance to see him line up against his illustrious Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi, who has shown signs of rediscovering his best after an injury-hit season. Pellegrini said: “Without doubt it is very difficult (to stop) Messi because he is a top player of the world. He does a lot of different things. He has speed, good control, a good finish.
“He is a good player but I don’t think Barcelona is Messi. You can have Messi tight and other players will decide the game.”
City have qualified for the knockout stages for the first time after two previous failures at the group stage. The game therefore represents another important landmark in the club’s development and that is something Pellegrini acknowledges.
Pellegrini, whose side also contest the Capital One Cup final next month, said: “It is a good test, it is important. I don’t think it is the most important thing because we are just in the round of 16. We can beat Barcelona and maybe in the next round you can have a defeat.”