The Carling Cup final tomorrow can be seen as the start of manager Manuel Pellegrini’s “home straight” at Manchester City. He can see the finish line, with Pep Guardiola waiting to take over the blue baton. Whilst Pellegrini has established a solid squad, and a highly prospective academy, he leaves in June, to be replaced by the long coveted Pep Guardiola. City’s ambition is evident, with the vast expansion of their Academy facilities, as well as their own ground. On the pitch their squad continues to develop and gel further. It is entirely understandable that when a man of Guardiola’s calibre – and he is arguably a manager in a league of his own – becomes available, that the heirarchy of the Blues act quickly to bring in a man linked with them since his sabbatical of 2013. Evidently the City board believe he can take them a step or two further than Pellegrini has.
Though ‘The Engineer’ has conducted himself with the utmost grace and dignity as the loss of his job became one of the most talked about events of the current season, he is still in sight of a City swansong to leave with. The Premier League is not out of his grasp yet, whilst the Champions League is in his sights, the Sky Blues holding firm control over Dynamo Kiev after the first leg.
Chris Sutton took to media outlets to give his view on the events of late, describing Pellegrini’s tactics as reckless. Referring to the Chileans decision to pitch a youth lineup for the FA Cup match against a full strength Chelsea side, he said “His obsession with the Champions League has already ended City’s FA Cup hopes – and it could finish off their Premier League title bid”.
The term ‘going for broke’ may be a rather unfair label of Pellegrini’s tactical ploys in the long term, but it is not far from the truth. He has just four months left at the Etihad to leave a lasting legacy of his work. To be mentioned in the same breath as Roberto Mancini, the manager who brought them a first title in 44 years, Pellegrini has to achieve more than just a League title and squad stability.
Therefore the sacrifice of the FA Cup is understandable. Pellegrini knew the difficulties a team like Dynamo Kiev would possess. He daren’t take chances. By throwing out the youth team at Stamford Bridge, he may have demonstrated what some might say is a crass lack of care for the oldest domestic competition in English football, but he has shown Guardiola the bright future of the squad, whilst exuding his own flair for risky decisions and winning vital matches. Through this he is making his ambitions known; he is gunning for the Champions League.
And why not? He has the players at his disposal to do it. If he can keep Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero fit, and keep using the wild card that is Kelechi Iheanacho, on their day they can beat anyone. If, as expected, Dynamo are disposed of, City may very well be the last English act left in European competition. As things stand, they also look the most prospective in future.
Tomorrow, they take on a Liverpool side regarded as the underdogs of the final. It is their first final without Steven Gerrard, and will be certain to miss his inspirational leadership. Though they are steadily improving under Jurgen Klopp, the final comes too soon for them, and Pellegrini should collect another trophy, his first at Wembley. After that, his focus will be set on overhauling Leicester City at the head of the table, and his personal mission to canter on through Europe’s elite competition. Whatever happen now, it will define Pellegrini’s legacy.