Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Pellegrini's long goodbye turning sour

Published:Monday | May 9, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini prior to the English Premier League soccer match against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, yesterday.

MANCHESTER, England (AP):

Manuel Pellegrini's long goodbye at Manchester City is turning sour.

At the end of a week in which the team surrendered meekly in the Champions League semi-finals, City were held 2-2 by Arsenal in the English Premier League to throw into doubt their return to Europe's elite competition next season.

A top-four finish is no longer in City's hands with one week left in the season.

Even more galling, their great rivals - Manchester United - could grab City's Champions League qualification berth. Fourth-place City are two points clear of United, who have two games left - against West Ham and Bournemouth - to City's one.

"If you don't depend on what you can do, it's more difficult. But I think we deserve to be in the Champions League next year," said Pellegrini, who is being replaced by Pep Guardiola in the offseason after three years in charge.

Alexis Sanchez earned Arsenal a point with a 68th-minute equaliser at Etihad Stadium, consolidating his team's position in third. A draw at home to already-relegated Aston Villa on the final day will guarantee Arsenal a 20th straight top-four finish under Arsene Wenger.

Despite losing 2-1 at home to Southampton, Tottenham are assured of a top-three finish and therefore automatic qualification to the Champions League group stage. Spurs' end to the season is also proving a disappointment, though, having failed to win any of their last three games and allowing Leicester to seal the title at the start of this week.

Steven Davis scored both goals for Southampton, who are in sixth place and in position to qualify for next season's Europa League. Son Heung-min gave Tottenham the lead in the 16th.

 

DIFFERENT PRIORITY

 

In yesterday's other game, Liverpool beat Watford 2-0 through goals by Joe Allen and Roberto Firmino to stay in eighth place, but the Premier League isn't the team's priority for the rest of the season.

Liverpool play Sevilla in the Europa League final on May 18 and manager Juergen Klopp will likely continue to rotate his line-ups for the Reds' remaining two league games.

After taking charge of his final home game as City manager, Pellegrini took to the microphone soon after the final whistle to say a final 'thank you' to the club's fans. City's players stood in the centre circle, mostly with folded arms, to watch highlights of Pellegrini's tenure on the big screens.

Yet, only a few thousand fans stayed back after the game to bid Pellegrini farewell. The Chilean coach has won one Premier League title, the League Cup two times and guided City to the Champions League semi-finals - the furthest the club has ever progressed in the competition.

But his reign is ending in limp fashion. City barely posed a threat in bowing out to Real Madrid on Wednesday and the possibility of now losing their top-four place is, in Pellegrini's words, a "disaster".

Sergio Aguero's eighth-minute opener was cancelled out two minutes later by Olivier Giroud's header from a corner, in a riveting start to the match.

Kevin De Bruyne put City back in front with a low shot from the edge of the area in the 51st, before Sanchez played a one-two with Giroud and beat Hart with a low finish from just outside the penalty area.

"It is in our hands," Wenger said of Champions League qualification. "Our character has been questioned a few times this season and we gave the right response on the pitch."

For Pellegrini and City, much now hinges on Man United's game at West Ham tomorrow. Win that and United can finish the job by beating out-of-form Bournemouth at home on the final day. City finish the season away to Swansea.