MANUEL PELLEGRINI reckons Manchester City’s decision to announce Pep Guardiola as their new manager in February wrecked their chances of the title.
City, with Kevin De Bruyne in superlative form against the team who let him go, cruised to an easy win at Stamford Bridge to cap a superb week that saw them reach the Champions League semi-finals.
But the dignified Chilean’s patience finally snapped as he poured out his frustration at what might have been had City’s decision to announce Guardiola’s arrival and the huge speculation around it not affected the minds of his players.
Pellegrini clearly believes that had he been allowed to get on with his job – and not been affected by crippling injuries to his best players – City could have been challenging for the title. Instead, they are left scrapping for fourth place.
With all their best players back and fit they showed what they could really do at Stamford Bridge as they masterfully dismantled a Chelsea side who cannot wait for this season to end.
At the point of the Pellegrini announcement on February 1 City were second in the table, three points behind Leicester and two ahead of Tottenham. They lost successive home games against the pair and won only one of their next six matches.
Pellegrini watched Sergio Aguero net a hat-trick to take him to 21 goals for the season on Saturday and said: “Yes, I am frustrated. Of course, because we never expected to lose those games against Leicester and Tottenham. But there are reasons.
“At the start of February there was news about change of the manager, about players who will not continue next season, about a lot of things that involved the minds of the players.
“It’s not easy for players to focus when you read about the things that will happen next season – players who will go, players that will come in.
“In February we were involved in all competitions and we won the Capital One Cup. We were three points behind the leaders. We had to leave the FA Cup because of congestion, and we had injuries. A lot of reasons we couldn’t continue in that way.
“But this squad has character. We never give up, and I hope we will see that in the Champions League. I am sure this team can reach in the final.
“We must try to finish playing this way, trying to be as near as possible to the top of the table. It will be a good season if we win two trophies.”
Injuries to key players also killed Pellegrini’s challenge with De Bruyne missing for two months, Sami Nasri for six, Aguero battling various problems, and skipper Vincent Kompany still out.
Pellegrini added: “Except for the first five games of the seasons we never could play all of them together. That is the important difference.
“Aguero has to try to play the whole season. When you are 100 per cent fit and playing every week of course your performance is better. He made a mistake playing for Argentina when he had some muscle problems. That meant he couldn’t play for five or six games.”
City face Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo in the first leg of their semi-final on Tuesday week at the Etihad, and on the evidence of this superb counter-attacking performance they have every chance.
Pellegrini said: “Real have very important players – but so do we.” Especially De Bruyne and Aguero.
After a bright start by Chelsea, when Nicolas Otamendi kicked Pedro’s shot off the line and Joe Hart tipped Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot away, City took over with ruthless brilliance.
De Bruyne, allowed to slip away by Chelsea two years ago for just £18million, raced away to set up Aguero for the first, from a Chelsea corner. Then in another lethal break, De Bruyne fed Nasri, who slipped in Aguero to finish.
It would have been more but for Thibault Courtois, but then the hapless keeper took out Fernandinho when he burst through. Off he went, and Aguero did not waste this spot-kick.
Chelsea were utterly woeful. Guus Hiddink could only pluck the feeble plus point that at least next season they won’t have to face the Europa League.
“It will give the new management and directors a chance to build a good team competing for the top four,” he said. It has got that bad.
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 5, Cahill 5, Ivanovic 6, Rahman 6; Mikel 6 (Begovic 79), Fabregas 6; Willian 6 (Traore 69, 6), Loftus Cheek 6, Pedro 7 (Kenedy 69, 6); Costa 6. Booked: Azpilicueta, Mikel. Sent off: Courtois. NEXT UP: Bournemouth (a) Sat, PL.
MAN CITY (4-3-3-1): Hart 7; Zabaleta 7 (Sagna 66, 6), Mangala 7, Otamendi 7, Kolarov 7; Toure 7, Fernandinho 7; Navas 7, De Bruyne 8, Nasri 7 (Delph 74, 6); Aguero 7 (Iheanacho 84).Booked: Zabaleta, Otamendi, Nasri. Goals: Aguero 33, 54, 80 pen. NEXT UP: Newcastle (a) tomorrow, PL.