Bullish Pellegrini labels City the only club in Manchester

A week that will offer the truest measure of Manchester City’s progress so far began with manager Manuel Pellegrini presenting the bullish assessment that his team are the only team in Manchester.

Bullish Pellegrini labels City the only club in Manchester

Five years and five months after the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover, City still measure themselves against their old rivals from across town, who are currently seventh in the Premier League.

But, as they prepare to face Barcelona in their first-ever match in the Champions League knockout phase tonight, they are now focused on a lot more than enjoying a slither of pleasure at United’s failings.

And while Pellegrini, whose side are three points off the top of the Premier League with a game in hand, in the Capital One Cup final and FA Cup quarter-finals amid a whirl of goals, may be mildly surprised at the impact of his view of the state of Manchester football in certain quarters this morning, it is hard to argue with his opinion.

“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,” Pellegrini said.

“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.”

Like United, Barcelona have history on their side but much will be familiar as Lionel Messi and the rest draw up at the stadium this evening.

With former Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain running things, City have unashamedly copied the model of their former club and the Etihad Campus, to include a new training ground and a mini stadium, will offer far more than just a Financial Fair Play dodge.

By this time next year, the only real difference to the Nou Camp will be that there is no Asda on Calle Aristides Mallol but, infrastructure aside, this evening offers the first indication of how City, still new money upstarts at this level, measure up with the very best.

Their initial tanglings with Europe’s elite were deeply unimpressive with Real Madrid and Dortmund both taking four points off them and outplaying Roberto Mancini’s side last season.

There was another brutal lesson in the 3-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich in October and although they saved face with a 3-2 win in Bavaria in December, Pellegrini’s admission he had not realised that another goal would take his team through as group winners was an embarrassment.

But window after window of investment, with last summer’s acquisitions of Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Stevan Jovetic taking them to another level, has given City the chance to be seen as major international players.

And although Pellegrini, who hopes to have Fernandinho back in midfield after a knee problem, stopped short of the bloody-mindedness he showed before Saturday’s win over Chelsea, he mocked any suggestion that his free-scoring team will change their approach against Tata Martino’s side.

That may mean another ambitious gamble on a 4-4-2 against Barcelona’s 4-3-3, a punt that has seen City out-flanked and dominated centrally by both Bayern and Chelsea on their own patch this season.

Even with Sergio Ageruo out and Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo short of fitness, playing five in midfield may be taken as a sign of weakness but it may also be sensible.

“When you play against Barcelona, against important teams, you always must consider important things but the most important thing is to try to be the same team you see every week in the Premier League,” Pellegrini added.

“For me it is important to continue having the same style of play and the personality to try to beat Barcelona, but you cannot continue without thinking they have Messi and other important players.”

Aside from what will be construed as his swipe at United, Pellegrini was reticent when discussing how pivotal this last 16 tie against the Catalans could be, but City’s Spain winger David Silva appreciates its importance.

“It will be difficult, but beating Barcelona would be like a coming of age for Man City, very important for our confidence and international recognition,” he said.

Former Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure, who seemed unusually preoccupied with dealing with criticism from Dietmar Hamann yesterday, echoed Silva’s sentiments.

He said: “Playing them really is a poisoned gift because at the moment public opinion says that Barcelona aren’t in top form, that they don’t have the same edge as they had during the (Pep) Guardiola era or the Tito Vilanova but I think these people are sticking a finger in their eye.

“If we manage to knock out Barcelona we will take huge confidence from that for the rest of the competition and it will help us to transcend ourselves.”

Fifteen years ago when the Blues were stuck in the third tier United supporters used to take great delight in poking fun at City fans’ insistence that they were still a “massive” club.

Few would dispute the meaning of that term has changed somewhat now.

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