Manuel Pellegrini knows he is now fighting to save his job
Manuel Pellegrini last night accepted full responsibility for the slide that has seen Manchester City surrender their title. The City manager refused to discuss his future after the 4-2 ‘demolition derby’ defeat by United that saw the champions fall 12 points behind Chelsea.
On New Year’s Day, Manchester City had been level on points at the top of the Premier League.
This was City’s fourth defeat in five matches and their second in a week, following the 2-1 reverse at Crystal Palace last Monday night.
“I always think it is my responsibility, always,” said Pellegrini. “Winning is the only way to change our situation.”
It had been thought the board at the Etihad Stadium would stick with the man who steered them to the title last season but, if City fail to make the Champions League, his future would be in grave doubt. If Liverpool beat Newcastle United this evening, they would be just four points behind.
“We have to play six games more and we have spent almost the whole year in either first or second position,” he said. “We are fourth because we have lost two games in a week but United and Arsenal have to play Chelsea.
“We have 18 points to play for and we must try not to make this a dramatic moment. Our next two games are at home — against West Ham and Aston Villa — and we must try to recover from this defeat. But I am not talking about my position, it is not important.”
Nevertheless, the City manager said he was concerned about the spirit of the side.
Yet many of whose members had the mental strength to take two Premier League titles on the last afternoon of the season.
"Maybe it is something we should be concerned about," he said.
"It is easy when you are two goals in front to play with more trust than the team that is two goals behind. I think we made important mistakes for their second goal.
"Maybe the spirit of our team is not the real spirit but we must continue to play as we did for the first 20 minutes (when the Manchester United forward Juan Mata admitted they had been "brilliant"). It is the same team.
"The only way we can change it is working. Working with the minds of the players, working with the team. Working with a lot of things. We must improve and I hope when the team wins again that we will recover their trust.
"The fans are very important to us. Maybe they are not in a good moment but I am sure they will continue supporting this group. We have had a bad 2015 and a very bad week. We have to stick together to recover our position."
For his opposite number, this season is moving in an entirely different direction. Asked if this, his sixth straight win, was his best moment since coming to England to manage Manchester United, Louis van Gaal said: "Maybe it is the best feeling but it was not the best performance.
"We started very badly but we regained our confidence, the second goal was a result of a fantastic attack. The second half was fantastic I think."
Van Gaal was, however, untypically coy when asked if this result meant United could claim to be the best team in Manchester. "We are at this moment four points ahead of City so that is a fact," he said.
"But we still have six matches to go. We can enjoy ourselves today and tomorrow but we have to prepare for a match at Chelsea and we are not winning so many games away so that might be difficult.
"But of course you are playing for the fans and at the start of the season it was not fantastic to be a Manchester United fan. We had 13 points after 11 matches and still they supported us. This week they can go on to the streets, head up, and say we are the better team because the goal average is better (City won the derby in November 1-0).
Pellegrini assuredly would not be venturing out to celebrate but Van Gaal said he might pop into his favourite restaurant, Wing's, a Chinese in the centre of Manchester. "I can go to Wing's because you can go out when you win," he said with a smile.
"When you lose, the fans say: 'What is Mr Louis doing because he has lost and is going out to the best restaurant'."