As the drama surrounding Manuel Pellegrini’s job status heightens, the chances of Manchester City winning any silverware are dwindling with near-similar velocity.
Trying to regroup from their Champions League flameout, the reigning Premier League champions try to keep Chelsea in their sights today (Saturday) when they host West Bromwich Albion.
For the second straight year, Man City’s European campaign ended in the round of 16 at the hands of Spanish power Barcelona. Pellegrini’s men were unable to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit Wednesday, losing 1-0 at the Camp Nou on a goal by Ivan Rakitic.
The scoreline, however, was highly flattering to City as goalkeeper Joe Hart turned in arguably his best performance in a No. 1 shirt for the club, finishing with 10 saves and preventing the superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez from finding the back of the net.
Hart, though, wanted no part of any accolades for his performance and knows City must rebound and avoid a third consecutive loss in all competitions to have any chance of erasing a six-point deficit to Chelsea – who also has a match in hand – with nine games left.
“We’ve got to (refocus),” Hart told City’s official website. “There are going to be tired people but we’ve got a fantastic squad here and we’ve got people. I’m certainly going to be ready. … That’s the club that we are now, our sole purpose is the Premier League and we’re going to show that on Saturday.”
The lack of trophies in City’s cabinet has prompted speculation Pellegrini could be removed by season’s end, a move that has precedence with the ownership group’s clumsy and eventual removal of predecessor Roberto Mancini to make way for Pellegrini prior to City’s 2013-14 title-winning season. The Chilean manager has brushed aside the rumours as City look to maintain a top-four spot for a Champions League return.
West Brom meanwhile, have more modest aspirations in seeking to secure their top-flight status for next season. The Baggies are 13th on 33 points – eight points clear from the relegation spots – as manager Tony Pulis has again rescued a team from the threat of being sent down.
Pulis’ charges recovered from a pair of losses to Aston Villa, including an FA Cup defeat, to beat Stoke City 1-0 last Saturday. Brown Ideye’s goal in the 19th minute proved decisive for West Brom, who are out to end a nine-match winless spell (0-5-4) outside The Hawthorns in league play dating to their 1-0 win at Leicester City on Nov. 1.
“There are a few teams that are a few points behind us but if you want to start looking at things like that you will soon find yourself slipping away,” defender Gareth McAuley said.
“We’ve got a lot to play for with these nine games left.”
This match starts a difficult run-in to the end of the season for the Baggies, who will play Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal among their final five matches. Scraping out points ahead of that gauntlet will all but certainly determine if Pulis’ rejuvenation skills again come to fruition.
“May is a bit of a lottery for us,” McAuley conceded. “We’ve got a really difficult group of matches in our last four or five games so the last thing we can afford to be is complacent.”
City ran out 3-1 winners at The Hawthorns on Boxing Day as Fernando, Yaya Toure and David Silva all scored in the first 34 minutes. Manchester City have won six straight between the teams by a 16-5 aggregate and are unbeaten in their last nine (8-1-0) league matches versus the Baggies.
Source: ScoreMobile FC
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