Manuel Pellegrini has played down talk of a rivalry with Pep Guardiola as he looks to score a first ever win over the Bayern Munich boss when Manchester City play hosts to the European champions on Wednesday.
When the Chilean was handed the reins at the Etihad Stadium this summer it represented his second tilt at a club with major aspirations and finances after a reputation in Europe built on over-achieving with the modest-sized Villarreal and Malaga. His first shot at the big time ended prematurely after a single season. His Real Madrid team, despite registering a then club-record points haul in La Liga, fell short to Guardiola’s incredible Barcelona side. Now with City looking to make their mark among Europe’s elite, Pellegrini has explained that the heavyweight group-stage clash is about the players on show rather than the two men in the dugout.
“It's always a game between the players, it's not me versus Pep,” he said. “Football is always changing, the past is the past, so we'll see what happens in the future. Again, I'll repeat, it's not me versus Pep, it's Manchester City versus Bayern. Pep is a great manager and he's at a great club. It's not easy to improve on what they achieved last year, but somehow he will try and bring to Bayern all the characteristics he brought to Barcelona.”
Guardiola was gracious when asked about his undefeated record against Pellegrini, pointing out that the tools at his disposal were the determining factor.
[My record against Pellegrini teams] is not important tomorrow,” he stated. “I'm really impressed by Manuel as whichever team he's coaching he gets them playing the same way. He always puts his stamp on the team -- he did it at Villarreal, Malaga and Real Madrid. If he's never beaten me it's because I was coaching one of the best teams in the world, maybe of all time, in Barcelona.”
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This season both managers are looking to stamp their marks on new teams that have very different recent records in the Champions League. Pellegrini has been tasked with the objective of making City a major force in Europe after their two previous campaigns ended in failure at the first hurdle under Roberto Mancini. While there has been a mixed start domestically, City scored a comfortable win on Matchday One of the Champions League with a 3-0 win at Viktoria Plzen.
For Guardiola, the challenge has been to introduce his philosophy to a side that won a historic treble last season. For the most part it has been a case of so far so good. Bayern have won 10 and drawn two of their opening 12 matches in all competitions -- one of those ties being in the UEFA Super Cup which they went onto win on penalties. They began their quest to regain the European Cup with a 3-0 home victory over CSKA Moscow.
Manchester City (probable)
D: Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy
M: Navas, Fernandinho, Toure, Nasri
F: Aguero, Negredo
Bayern Munich (probable)
D: Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba
Robben, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Ribery
Prediction: Manchester City showed how good they can be when they’re at their best with a thrilling destruction of Manchester United. Yet, against Aston Villa at the weekend they again demonstrated a propensity to lose concentration, as well as their relative lack of solidity at the back. Key to City, as he has been since his arrival, is Yaya Toure. When he’s on his game, the Ivorian drives the whole team forward and provides an intensity that others in the side cannot fail to try and replicate. Given that he usually saves such performances for the big occasion, he can be expected to be on song against Bayern.
The midfield battle promises to be the most intriguing aspect of the match. Guardiola, partly due to injuries to Javi Martinez, has moved away from the double pivot that proved so effective last season. Indeed, at the Etihad, he could once more utilize Philipp Lahm as a defensive midfielder. But Bastian Schweinsteiger is returning to fitness and his presence should provide more solidity to allow the incredible creativity in the side to prosper.
The match has all the ingredients of a highly entertaining matchup, with Bayern and City both scoring freely this season. By the end both may be satisfied to take a point in a group from which they should both progress.
Manchester City 2-2 Bayern Munich
Where to watch: The Champions League Group D match will kick off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 2, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.