Stars align for Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City

Chelsea 0 Manchester City 3
Manuel Pellegrini has experienced no end of uncomfortable moments this season but increasingly it seems as though the stars are becoming aligned for the outgoing Manchester City manager.

The stars in Pellegrini’s case are his most high-profile players who are hitting form at the perfect time, as the Chilean attempts to engineer the success his Abu Dhabi employers have craved most, and deliver the Champions League trophy to the Etihad Stadium.

The irony, of course, is that Pellegrini will leave at the end of the season partly because of the perception he is unable to take the club to the next level, a level that Pep Guardiola, the incoming manager, had appeared born to before his three-year stint at Bayern Munich.

There are growing signs, however, Pellegrini could be leaving on a high.

Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick at Chelsea articulately summed up the qualities of a player who, when at the top of his game, can claim to be the Premier League’s outstanding striker, while Kevin De Bruyne highlights in every game the calamitous error Chelsea made in allowing the Belgium midfielder to leave.

Throw in the re-emergence of an energised Samir Nasri after long-term injury — City’s decision to leave the injured midfielder out of their 25-man Champions League squad in January confirms Chelsea are not alone in making errors of judgement — and an improved display from Yaya Toure, and it’s clear that a number of Pellegrini’s key players have rediscovered their mojo.

The dismantling of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge spoke volumes about the different trajectories the clubs are currently travelling. Not that City are soaring. They have yet to confirm a top-four finish — although it would take a major collapse for them to drop out of the Champions League places — and have long since been reduced to bystanders in the title race.

They are hitting their straps, though, when it matters most, recording a third successive Premier League win for the first time this season and, having dismissed Paris Saint Germain last week, can look forward to the Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid with confidence.

“I think it was one of the best games we’ve played this season because it is not easy to dominate the way we did when playing at Stamford Bridge, where it is always difficult,” said Toure.“When Samir, De Bruyne, and Aguero are on the field together they play very well and can hurt the opposition.”

Toure’s contribution was also significant, with the player having been left on the bench against PSG. A fit and firing Toure is an asset to any team and he added: “I was delighted to help my teammates again because I’ve missed two or three games through injury and it’s always difficult to watch my team-mates play without me.

“I always want to be involved and help my team whenever I can. I always want to work hard and that’s what I will continue to do because we want to finish the season as strongly as possible.”

The outcome at Stamford Bridge was never in doubt from the moment De Bruyne broke and set up Aguero for the 33rd minute opening goal.

De Bruyne also had a hand in the second shortly before half-time. Chelsea’s misery was complete when keeper Thibaut Courtois was sent off for tripping Fernandinho and Aguero converted from the penalty spot to complete his treble.

The manner of Chelsea’s defeat underlined the club is marking time ahead of the arrival of new manager Antonio Conte this summer. The Italian will not have been impressed by what he saw and his plans for a summer overhaul may well have just been extended.

“We are not used to it and sometimes that produces performances like that,” said Gary Cahill, the centre-back. “But we should have more pride in ourselves to go out and give a performance and at least run around and try to get close to people.

“We need to maybe speak next week as a group because we have some great players and some good lads. We have nothing to play for, but I don’t care how you play, you run around and if you make mistakes you make mistakes and you go again. I thought we lacked that in this game.”

CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Courtois 4; Azpilicueta 6, Ivanovic 5, Cahill 7, Rahman 6; Fabregas 6, Mikel 7 (Begovic 79,6); Willian 7 (Traore 70,6), Loftus-Cheek 7, Pedro 7 (Kenedy 70,6); Costa 5.

Not used: Falcao, Pato, Miazga, Matic.

MANCHESTER CITY (4-4- 1-1): Hart 7; Zabaleta 6 (Sagna 67,6), Otamendi 7, Mangala 6, Kolarov 7; Navas 7, Fernandinho 7, Toure 8, Nasri 8 (Delph 75,6); De Bruyne 8; Aguero 9 (Iheanacho 85,6).

Not used: Caballero, Fernando, Bony, Demichelis.

Referee: Mike Dean.


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