Football: City boss worthy of final

Sergio Aguero celebrating after scoring the third goal for Manchester City as Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles watches on. City won 3-1 and 4-3 on aggregate.
Sergio Aguero celebrating after scoring the third goal for Manchester City as Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles watches on. City won 3-1 and 4-3 on aggregate. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pellegrini aims for a winner's medal in Cup final which could possibly be his farewell gift

LONDON • Manuel Pellegrini is such a civilised man, and he sets his teams up in such adventurous fashion, that few neutrals would begrudge him a trip to Wembley, even if Manchester City did take a little detour behind the line to reach the League Cup final on Feb 28 and have concerns over the injury suffered by Kevin de Bruyne.

The City manager has dealt so stoically with all the talk of Pep Guardiola's arrival that he deserves this chance to bow out in style.

The quadruple is an unlikely haul but even one winner's medal would make a nice leaving present for the Chilean, who had always represented City well.

Judging Pellegrini's abilities has not always been easy because of his access to such prodigious playing talent, but he demonstrated accomplished decision-making skills on Wednesday.

He was decisive when it counted most, removing Fabian Delph and sending on Jesus Navas at the break with the score at 1-1, then switching from 4-3-1-2 to 4-3-3 with Navas and Raheem Sterling wide, targeting the Everton full-backs, Leighton Baines and John Stones.

Twenty minutes into the second period, Pellegrini made his most telling move, withdrawing his captain, Yaya Toure, and sending on de Bruyne. City suddenly had more mobility, more of a cutting edge.

ANTICIPATION

To play a final in Wembley is always a special occasion with a special atmosphere.

It'll be a brilliant final.

MANUEL PELLEGRINI, City manager, on making the League Cup final.

De Bruyne scored one and created another for Sergio Aguero, sending City through - with a 3-1 win on the night and 4-3 on aggregate - to the final, where they will face Liverpool.

"To play a final in Wembley is always a special occasion," Pellegrini said. "If you have two very good teams like Liverpool and Manchester City it'll be a brilliant final."

City will hope that de Bruyne is fit after the Belgian was taken off just before the end with a knee injury, after he appeared to catch his studs in the turf and twist his knee. De Bruyne's agent later told Sky Sports News that the player probably has a twisted knee and "will be back in a few days".

"We will see," said Pellegrini, when asked how long the Belgium midfielder is expected to be out for. "I hope he is not out for the season."

As City celebrated, Everton were furious that de Bruyne's goal was allowed to stand by referee Martin Atkinson after Sterling knocked the ball past Stones and made contact only when it was over the line.

"You have to respect the referees," Martinez said. "They have the toughest job in football but certain decisions are clear-cut. It is a major blow ending our chances."

Everton held a 2-1 lead from the opening leg, and Ross Barkley opened the scoring before Fernandinho began City's comeback.

"That second goal too much affected the outcome," Martinez said. "It's a very hurtful way of not making the final step. (It) is a key moment, the momentum changes and then we have to take risks."

Everton captain Phil Jagielka accused Atkinson of arrogance after alleging the referee made a sarcastic comment about Everton's defending when challenged over the controversial goal.

"I tried to (speak to Atkinson) but he just told me that our defending was brilliant," said Jagielka. "It is difficult when things start going the wrong way and they (the officials) become a little bit arrogant."

Pellegrini agreed that the ball was out of play, but he suggested that Everton had benefited from a series of refereeing decisions over the tie.

"One thing Everton cannot complain about is the referee," he said.

But, for all Everton's frustration, City deserved this victory, and not simply for Pellegrini's decision-making.

They had 19 efforts at goal to Everton's four, with five of them on target, to the visiting team's two. They forced nine corners to Everton's two, enjoyed 54 per cent of possession and completed 369 passes to the opposition's 291.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'CITY BOSS WORTHY OF FINAL'. Print Edition | Subscribe