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Pellegrini requires Man City’s backing

Manuel Pellegrini

Talk is rife that Manuel Pellegrini, the Manchester City manager, is a dead man walking now that his team is five points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea with just ten games left.

It would be uncalled for should the club sack him at the end of the season if he wins nothing this season. Recent results such as the 2-2 draw with relegation-bound Burnley, the 0-2 FA Cup loss to Middlesborough, the 1-1 draw with struggling Hull City and the 1-2 loss to Liverpool have led many observers to question his abilities.

It doesn’t seem to matter that Pellegrini won the Carling Cup and the Premier League last season. Let us face it: no coach can win in every season. Jose Mourinho, whom I am sure many rate highly as the ‘special one’, didn’t win in the 2012/2013 season at Real Madrid and in the 2013/2014 season in Chelsea.

Winning is top of the agenda. But not the only thing to prove what a good coach one is; otherwise, Arsene Wenger should be at Nottingham Forest, probably because since 2004, he hasn’t guided Arsenal to any league title.

Granted, Pellegrini has made some mistakes this season but he deserves credit that he has kept the many egos at Man-City in check. Besides, Pellegrini past record doesn’t read badly at all especially when one is to consider that he transformed Villarreal CF between 2005 and 2007 using a shoestring budget guided the Yellow Submarines to the semi-finals of the Uefa Champions League in 2006.

Oftentimes, however, such runs can be one-offs and true to the narrative, many have been seen before. But Pellegrini moved to Malaga a few seasons later and inspired them to an impressive run to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2013. Even as the team struggled due to the lack of finances, it remained competitive.

As fans, we are easily carried away and quick to judge. But we need to sober up as far as Pellegrini is concerned, while for the Man-City hierarchy, sensibility is of the essence. Pellegrini and Man-City are just experiencing a hangover from last season. So, they will bounce back although that will need tactical smartness from the Chilean too.

He can start at the Nou Camp on Wednesday. His decision to play a 4-4-2 in the first leg was so naïve of Pellegrini. Roma’s midfielders Seydou Keita, Miralem Pjanic, Radja Naingollan and Daniel De Rossi killed Man-City at the Etihad in the 1-1 draw because of numbers.

How then could Pellegrini pull a similar stunt against Barcelona knowing how they subjugate teams using their numbers ploy?

Now, since Yaya Toure will be returning for the second leg at the Nou Camp on Wednesday 18 March, he should play as the number ten in front of Fernandinho and Fernando as the ball winning midfielders while David Silva and Samir Nasri sandwich Kun Aguero.

That should make Pellegrini’s men more resolute. Remember also, Barcelona are unlikely to have Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets.

Inevitably, that should make them weaker; an opportunity for Pellegrini to continue his work of making Man-City a formidable side, he set out to, while shutting those calling for his head to roll at the end of this season because he doesn’t look like winning something.



Garcia wants to replicate Rotterdam performance

Rudi Garcia

Roma boss Rudi Garcia wants his team to take inspiration from their UEFA Europa League triumph over Feyenoord when they meet Fiorentina.

Rudi Garcia has challenged his Roma players to replicate the performance they produced against Feyenoord when they visit Fiorentina in the UEFA Europa League last 16 first leg on Thursday.

Roma progressed with a 2-1 win in a fiery contest at De Kuip that saw two Feyenoord players sent off, completing a 3-2 aggregate victory.

However, Garcia's men have not won in Serie A in over a month and were beaten 2-0 by Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia last month, having claimed a 2-0 win and a 1-1 draw in the two league fixtures with the Florence club.

"We've met Fiorentina three times already and I think today will be different to the other games," Garcia said.

"We need to think of this as a match lasting 180 minutes: that's crucial if we're to play well and go through. We have to play better than we did against Chievo [in Sunday's 0-0 draw], but that shouldn't be too hard.

"I hope to see the Roma of Rotterdam, of the first half against Hellas [Verona] and the last 20 minutes against Juve [in a 1-1 draw nine days ago].

"I'm confident in my players' ability: they're quite capable of playing as well as they did until not long ago.

"My players know we have to take the game by the scruff of the neck, playing to our strengths."

Speaking of their recent poor form, forward Adem Ljajic added: "There's no mental block. We're a great group and we talk together. We'll come through this with our heads high.

"We'll all behind the coach and trying to reproduce the things we run through in training during the week.

"We played our game for the first six months. We're doing less well now and we need to get back to our best."



Lukaku spearheads Everton's Europa dream

Romelu Lukaku

Prolific Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku will lead Everton's assault on Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League last-16, first-leg tie tonight after scoring five times in the previous round.

Other plum ties in the round of 16 see Wolfsburg host Inter Milan, Napoli welcome Dynamo Moscow while Fiorentina await AS Roma, with return legs to be played a week later.

The 21-year-old Lukaku is top scorer remaining in the competition with six goals, mainly thanks to his hat-trick in the away leg and brace at home during Everton's 7-2 aggregate thumping of Swiss side Young Boys in the last round.

'Sometimes you need to remember the age he is, yet he is such a mature goalscorer,' said his coach Roberto Martinez, whose side have won three of their four European home ties but who lie 14th in the Premier League.

The last time Everton got this far in Europe was 2007/08, when they lost on penalties to Fiorentina, but there is hunger in Everton's attitude that sees them targeting the final in Warsaw on May 27.

Everton are the Premier League's last team in the tournament after Liverpool were beaten on penalties by Besiktas and Tottenham lost to Fiorentina in the last round.

With two away wins in the Europa League Dynamo can count on their striker Andriy Yarmolenko, who has three goals so far in the competition.

Unbeaten in the competition this season, Inter are one of five Italian sides in the last 16, but they face a tough challenge against Wolfsburg who have not conceded a goal in their last three European games and are second in the Bundesliga.

Roma beat Fiorentina 2-0 at home in Serie A this season and drew 1-1 away which will mean Rudi Garcia's side will feel confident after winning their last away game in Europe too.

Holders Sevilla travel to free-scoring Villareal for the battle of La Liga hopefuls. The hosts have scored 20 goals so far in the Europa league.


Lahm taking nothing for granted

Philipp Lahm

Philipp Lahm has conceded it will be difficult for Bayern Munich to prevail on all fronts ahead of Wednesday's crucial UEFA Champions League last-16 clash with Shakhtar Donetsk.

Bayern sit top of the Bundesliga and are set to face Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-finals of the DFB-Pokal next month, but the German champions were held to a goalless draw in Ukraine three weeks ago.

That stalemate leaves Bayern needing a win at the Allianz Arena to book their place in the quarter-finals, but Lahm - set to make his comeback after four months out with a broken ankle - is not getting ahead of himself.

"It is always the goal to win every competition, especially when you are playing for Bayern Munich. But that is tough," he told Perform. 

"The Champions League is not a title you can win with no effort. It is a hard competition.

"The most important thing is to win the Bundesliga because you want to stay at the top in Germany, plus it is over a whole season. At the end it is an honest result. You can have a bad day and it will not affect anything.

"In the end the best team in Germany is at the top of the table. That’s the reason why it is the most important thing. 

"But of course I want to win the Champions League."

Lahm, along with several of his Bayern team-mates, was part of Germany's World Cup-winning squad last year and has compared the experience to that of lifting the Champions League trophy.

"The feelings are similar," he added. "One is the highest possible achievement you can reach with your club and the other one is the highest possible achievement for a national team. Both are really important.

"I think the realisation of winning the World Cup will only set in after we retire. In our business things go on very fast."

And the quality at Bayern's disposal is not lost on Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu.

"We'll be playing against a very strong club," he told. "In my opinion Bayern are the world's strongest football team at the moment.

"They have six world champions among their players, and leading figures like [Franck] Ribery or [Arjen] Robben."

Bayern will be without Xabi Alonso, who was dismissed in the first leg, while Taras Stepanenko returns from suspension for Shakhtar.


Montella: "Tough match against Lazio"

Vincenzo Montella

We caught up with Vincenzo Montella after training ahead of Monday night’s trip to Lazio.

"It’s going to be a tough match today, possibly the most difficult test for us during this period of games. Lazio are a very good side. They’re a physical side – you can see that from the number of fouls they give away. They have top-quality players and are dangerous on the break.

"We’re coming off the back of an intense run of games. Unlike Lazio, we’ve had the Europa League to deal with, which has amounted to around ten extra games already. Having said that, we’ve definitely got the necessary mental strength to overcome that," began Montella.

There was disappointment for the Viola when the two sides met in October, but Montella was keen to look forward to the match to come: "Earlier in the season at the Franchi, Lazio were totally superior to us in the first half. After the break we were much the better side, and had more than enough chances to draw the match, although we ended up getting caught on the break and conceding again. As I said, Lazio are a top team, but we need to forget about the last game and focus on what we need to do on Monday night."

We couldn’t not ask Montella about the incredible impact Mohamed Salah has had since his arrival from Chelsea: "Salah has done some amazing things in a very short space of time. He’s deserved the acclaim he’s got in the press and I’m pleased for him. The team is delighted with him and there’s no sense of jealousy whatsoever within the dressing room. We’ll all do everything we can to help him to continue his form."

One January signing who’s not seen quite so much playing time is Alberto Gilardini, but Montella was quick to praise the Italian forward: "Gilardino is a great player and a very positive person. He’s not completely match-fit yet, but I still think he’s one of the best in-the-box strikers in the league. I’ve got total confidence in him."

There was also time for a word on Parma, where things finally look to be on the up: "It’s very good news. I think the Parma players and manager deserve the utmost respect for the way they’ve carried themselves. I really admire the way Donadoni has behaved throughout this whole saga. I think they have a right to carry on."

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