The Hairdryer

Manchester City class tells, but Pellegrini has only achieved the bare minimum

The Hairdryer

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Without wishing to put too much of a dampener on Manchester City’s celebrations, the League Cup win over Sunderland means next to nothing.

It's about as important as a teenager finally passing GCSE French a week before they sit an A-level in the same subject. It's as crucial as a gambler winning £10 in the office Grand National sweepstake a few days before a race on which that they've staked their life savings. Or, if you like, it's akin to getting a peck on the cheek from the woman of your dreams immediately before you ask her to marry you.

Sure, the win is nice. You might even call it a platform on which to build; but it's nothing more than that.

Manuel Pellegrini will feel a sense of relief at having won his first piece of silverware in Europe after almost a decade managing on the old continent.

Admittedly his former charges Villarreal and Malaga, while fine teams, were never favourites for titles; but his season with Real Madrid (which included a humiliating exit from the Copa del Rey) had looked set to tarnish the Chilean’s career until City gave him a huge opportunity.

[MANCHESTER CITY BEAT SUNDERLAND TO WIN LEAGUE CUP]

Pellegrini can put that to bed for now, but the reality is that City have bigger fish to fry.

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Earlier this season, when City had shrugged off an indifferent start to hit Bayern-esque levels of form, there were whispers of an unprecedented quadruple. Almost immediately, the team seemed to lose a bit of confidence, the pressure starting to tell.

Despite a 2-0 Champions League deficit to an eminently beatable Barcelona, City are still in every competition, although less comfortable favourites for the Premier League than they were at the start of the year.

And this is where the mind games start. Jose Mourinho appeared to have presumed victory for City at Wembley when he immediately switched focus to pressurising them in the league:

"The gap to Man City is a fake advantage.

"If they win their games in hand, they're top."

No pressure then. Particularly seeing as three of City's 12 remaining matches are at Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.

[CITY'S TRICKY RUN-IN]

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If the pressure seems to be posing a problem for City, it's understandable. The expectation is even higher than it was under Roberto Mancini, and the club’s owners want Premier League titles and European success.

The Premier League appears a more likely target, but with Chelsea back to their muscular best, Liverpool a joyous, free-scoring mess and Arsenal down but by no means out, there are too many permutations for any reasonable predictions to be made.

The FA Cup is not quite a shoo-in but the winner of Arsenal and Everton’s quarter-final is the only real viable opposition to City (it will be very difficult for Sunderland to reach two finals in one season).

And while the fans would delight in a domestic cup double, the club’s expectant owners will not. There are only two benchmarks for success in the very top bracket, and for all their history the cups do not justify the spend.

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Can Pellegrini win another pot this season? Of course. But City cannot allow this victory to impact on motivation – any celebrations must be painfully brief.

This is not unnecessary pessimism - before this year's final five of the last six managers to win the League Cup were out of work a year later (only Alex Ferguson survived). Birmingham even got themselves relegated - while Swansea's subsequent slump cost one of Europe's brightest managers his job.

[THE CURSE OF THE LEAGUE CUP WINNERS]

The next week is vital. City have to refocus quickly, and not allow FA Cup revenge over Wigan to take their collective eye off Barcelona and the Premier League run-in.

Pellegrini must also reconsider whether his apparent grudge against Joleon Lescott is worth sacrificing a proper defender for.

These are tasks Pellegrini is acutely aware of, and tasks he must ensure his players take to hand to. He said so himself:

"We will evaluate the season when season is over.

"But this is one trophy and nobody can think that one trophy is enough."

Otherwise, despite winning a trophy in his first season, his paymasters could well take a dim view of a campaign that was theirs to dominate.

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