LONDON • Manuel Pellegrini has revealed for the first time his frustration at the timing of the decision to replace him with Pep Guardiola and claimed that it has affected his players' motivation.
The Chilean was told of the move on Feb 1 when Manchester City decided to end speculation over his future. City were hot on the heels of Leicester at the time. But they lost to the Premier League leaders and Tottenham Hotspur in consecutive home matches, immediately followed by exiting the FA Cup after a 5-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
When they lost a third league game in a row, to Liverpool, hopes of a title pretty much faded.
Pellegrini thinks that Guardiola's appointment got into his players' minds and they lost concentration and perspective, and with them their title challenge.
"There was news about change of the manager, about players who will not continue here next season, about a lot of things involved the minds of all the players," he said ahead of his side's Premier League clash at Newcastle tonight.
"It's not easy for the players when you read in newspapers all things that will happen next season, all the players who will go out, all the players that will come in.
"It's not easy for the players to focus their mind. I am frustrated because we never expected to lose those games against Leicester and Tottenham."
Just yesterday, the talk was that City are in advanced negotiations to make Ilkay Guendogan their first signing of the Guardiola era. City have yet to agree a fee with Borussia Dortmund but the firm expectation on both sides is that the Germany midfielder will move to Manchester at the end of the season.
His likely arrival, for a fee of about £30 million (S$57.8 million), will cast further doubts over the future of Yaya Toure.
City have also been linked to Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for weeks, with Guardiola hopeful that he will provide competition for Joe Hart. While the Englishman is expected to remain the first-choice goalkeeper, Willy Caballero is expected to leave the club.
City have at least appeared to find their form again. They are likely to finish in the top four after a third straight league win, while they can look forward to a Champions League semi-final against 10-time winners Real Madrid.
The team should also be buoyed at St James' Park, where they are unbeaten since 2005 and have won on eight of their last nine visits, by the return of captain Vincent Kompany and winger Raheem Sterling.
Meanwhile, Andros Townsend has set Newcastle a minimum target of three wins from their remaining five games to clinch Premier League safety.
Victory against City will see Rafael Benitez's side climb out of the bottom three for the first time since early February, as they look to build on Saturday's 3-0 home win over Swansea.
Second-bottom Newcastle are aiming to avoid a second relegation form the top flight in seven years, and England midfielder Townsend said: "A lot of people have already written us off but the Swansea result has given us a lift and we take a lot of confidence from having three of our last five games at home."
Injured defenders Fabricio Coloccini (calf) and Daryl Janmaat (groin) are both unlikely to return in time for today's match.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
NEWCASTLE V MANCHESTER CITY
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