x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Familiar foes face off in new setting

Manuel Pellegrini will not admit it, but victory over Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich would constitute revenge, of sorts.

Manuel Pellegrini insists today's game is not about him and Pep Guardiola. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Manuel Pellegrini insists today's game is not about him and Pep Guardiola. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

English football correspondent

MANCHESTER // They have met as managers in El Clasico, Real Madrid against Barcelona. As they renew a rivalry in the dugout, it is for another potential classic, Manchester City against Bayern Munich.

Yet this has been a one-sided duel. Manuel Pellegrini has never defeated Pep Guardiola – indeed, some think that, had the Spaniard wanted the City job, he could have beaten him again in the battle to replace Roberto Mancini – but he is adamant that is irrelevant.

“That’s past and now we will see about the future,” the Chilean said. “I don’t play against Guardiola, it’s the players.”

City could welcome back David Silva and Sergio Aguero, who have both been sidelined, for tonight’s game at Etihad Stadium, but few clubs can boast a better group than Bayern, who completed a historic treble last year and then signed Mario Goetze and Thiago Alcantara, though the latter is injured.

In Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and company, Guardiola had an enviable inheritance. Yet, as Pellegrini knows, the perfectionist in Guardiola will be looking to make them still more potent.

“Pep is a great manager and he’s at a great club, also,” he said. “I know it’s not easy for him to improve on what Bayern did last year, but in some way, he will give Bayern the characteristics of the teams he managed, that he gave to Barcelona in his four years [there].”

The Catalan club twice won the Uefa Champions League during Guardiola’s time in charge. City have twice failed to advance out of the group stage, a struggle that explains Pellegrini’s appointment.

His side made a promising start with a 3-0 win against Viktoria Plzen, and while Bayern present an altogether tougher test, Pellegrini is adamant that his side will go for a second successive victory.

“We never think about a draw,” he said. “From the first minute, we will go for the three points.”

Edin Dzeko, one of the beneficiaries of Pellegrini’s appointment, said: “We want to beat them and stay in first position.”

City won their last meeting two years ago against Bayern, 2-0. But that was after the Germans had already secured qualification and selected a weakened team, while City’s exit rendered their triumph irrelevant.

Victory tonight would be altogether more meaningful. And for Pellegrini, whose one-year reign at Real was ended because of the success of Guardiola’s Barcelona, it would constitute revenge, even if he will not concede that himself.