Jim White

Criticism over Pellegrini’s maths mishap doesn’t add up

Jim White

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After they came second, by goal difference, in their Champions League group, Manchester City now face being drawn in the first knock-out round against one of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico or Paris Saint-Germain. Whatever happens in Monday’s draw, no-one can accuse City of being gifted a shoo-in.

Indeed, the respected German football commentator Rafael Honigstein suggested this morning that if a club from the Bundesliga had missed the opportunity City had last night to top their group and thus procure themselves an easier draw, they would have been pilloried in the German press. Nobody messes up their permutations there without being ridiculed. No manager worth his salt would muddle his maths in Germany.

And it was that close. Leading 3-2 in the Allianz Arena, City only required another goal to condemn Bayern to that elevated roster of possible opponents (with the addition of Chelsea and Manchester United) and give themselves the chance of meeting one of Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Juventus or Galatasaray, Basel or Schalke, Dortmund or Napoli, Zenit or Porto or Milan or Ajax. A much more appetising proposition.

But instead of going for the extra goal which may have smoothed their passage, the City manager Manuel Pellegrini opted for securing a famous win, and replaced Eden Dzeko with Jack Rodwell in order to seal up his backline. And he did so apparently unaware of the simple fact that another goal could have made all the difference to his wider ambitions.

“We didn’t know if 4-2 would be enough,” revealed James Milner, who got the third goal, after the match. “We thought we needed 5-2 to be honest.”

Would never have happened in Germany, apparently. There they don’t mess about with their maths. A German club in a similar position to the one City so unexpectedly found themselves after going two behind within a dozen minutes would have been ruthless in their efficiency, the manager ensuring everyone knew precisely what was required.

Which sounds all very well in theory. But Pellegrini does not deserve, as he has been from some quarters, to be lambasted as if he were the natural heir to Alan Ball. That is simply ridiculous.

It was Ball, as if any City fan needs reminding, who, during the final game of the 1996, ordered his players to keep the ball down near their own corner flag under the impression that a 2-2 home draw with Liverpool would be sufficient to preserve their place in the Premier League. Acting on false information from a member of the crowd about results from elsewhere, Ball instructed his team to sit tight and not press for the required winner.

History insists that it was as a result of his inability to count that City went down. No-one ever adds the caveat to the Ball incident that, had the diminutive flat-cap wearing World Cup winner, encouraged every single one of his players forward in the pursuit of a winner, there is no certainty they would have got one.

There was a reason that his team was down in the relegation mire. They were not exactly efficient at scoring goals to order over the previous nine months, so there was no guarantee they would have got one in the last couple of minutes of the season. Sergio Aguero, after all, was still at primary school at the time.

Ball’s was a somewhat more serious mathematical misdemeanour than Pellegrini’s. After all, it condemned City to games against Oldham, Grimsby and Southend. Not Real Madrid, Barcelona or PSG.

Besides, all of this theorising rather misses the point. City ought to be congratulated for the fact they have just beaten the European champions on home turf. Indeed the representatives of the much vaunted Bundesliga have not exactly covered themselves with glory in their home encounters with English opposition this season.

While the leaders Bayern lost 3-2 to City last night, Dortmund were beaten 1-0 by Arsenal and Leverkusen were battered last month by Manchester United a side which, by all objective account, is not exactly sailing through its Premier League programme this season.

Never mind Pellegrini’s grasp on maths: 3-0 is the sum that we should be talking up here. Ultimately, if Bayern are not too traumatised by last night and progress all the way to Lisbon, it may not mean much. Of course it will have absolutely no bearing should England meet Germany in next summer’s Brazilian shindig. But right now, it is a figure worth trumpeting.

A reminder that, in the urge to praise all things German, this season at least, not everything is going their way. And yes, that is taking into account the fact that Dortmund and Bayern both won their away fixtures in the Anglo-German showdown.

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