Football

No regrets for Pellegrini

Man City boss says he was right to prioritise Champions League over EPL top-four race

SOUTHAMPTON 4

(Shane Long 25, Sadio Mane 28, 57, 68)

MAN CITY 2

(Kelechi Iheanacho 44, 78)

Manuel Pellegrini insisted he would gamble Manchester City's Premier League top-four finish to prioritise the Champions League all over again, even after a comprehensive 4-2 defeat at Southampton yesterday morning (Singapore time).

City were undone by Sadio Mane's hat-trick at St Mary's against a line-up featuring eight changes from last Wednesday's goalless draw with Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final first leg.

Pellegrini insisted he would do "exactly the same again" in terms of his squad rotation, despite accepting the defeat could impact Thursday's return leg in Madrid - and dent City's chances of securing a Champions League spot.

City's hefty defeat leaves that fourth-place Premier League finish in the balance, with Arsenal and Swansea still to play.

"I would do exactly the same again because we have an important game on Wednesday to play for the Champions League final," said Pellegrini.

"We continue in the Premier League in the next two games to be in the top four, so that was a risk. But one we also had to take.

"I was very disappointed, especially with the defending. It was the same players who played other games."

Southampton captain Jose Fonte, meanwhile, said that his team's pre-match game plan was to exploit Mane's pace against a makeshift City defence.

"It was a commanding performance, we were superior and we're very pleased," the Portuguese said.

"We knew they could have started quickly in the second half but we were prepared for it.

"The game plan was to explore the pace up front, the willingness to run and chase the ball and exploit the space.

"We were very confident on the ball and Mane was on fire today."

Mane, who scored all of Southampton's goals apart from Shane Long's 25th-minute opener, said the result was more important than his hat-trick.

Said the Senegalese: "The most important thing was the three points.

"I'm happy to score the goals for the team. We are happy to score more goals today. I think we've played fantastic football."

But his coach Ronald Koeman said the reported Manchester United target has to work on his consistency.

He said: "Sadio is a little bit unpredictable sometimes.

"He's still a young player, and young players they need sometimes to be more consistent."

On the criticism surrounding Pellegrini's team selection, the Dutchman added: "You can talk about the changes of Man City in the team, but that's not fair. Give all the credit to Southampton because the performance today was fantastic...

"Even if City had started with their best team we had possibilities to win, because we were at our best this afternoon."

Kelechi Iheanacho was arguably City's sole bright spark with his brace, and he was confident there would be no repeat performance against Real.

Said the 19-year-old: "We lost so many balls and didn't defend well.

"This game didn't give us enough encouragement. But we will put it behind us and focus on the Real Madrid game." - Wire Services.

"Those 90 minutes typify City’s season. They’ve got the best group of players but they’ve not been consistent... They’ve failed to turn up too many times."

— Former Liverpool star Graeme Souness on Manchester City

"I don’t want to say he doesn’t care if they don’t get into the top four because (Pep) Guardiola will have to take over, but his main priority is the Champions League."

— Former England striker Alan Shearer on Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini


BY THE NUMBERS

79
 losses

Manchester City have not won an EPL match they've been losing at half-time since April 1995. They have lost 79 of the games and drawn 11.

Footballeplmanchester citymanuel pellegrini