Pellegrini admits frustration as United hold purse strings
There is so rarely a flicker of emotion on Manuel Pellegrini's face that the way he seized on the question of why he had not taken the chance to sign Angel di Maria this summer was as significant as his answer.
The punishment that Uefa has handed City for breaching Financial Fair Play rules had prevented City bidding, he said. "Yes I think it is very easy," he said in response to the question. "I suppose you already know. We have an important restriction [on our] budget this year. We cannot spend the money that United paid for Di Maria. We have an important restriction on the amount of players we can have this year and also the amount of money we can spend. Very easy question."
The essential follow-up had not been fully voiced before he had replied to it.
Journalist: "But if you had that money to..."
Journalist: "...spend, would you have bought him?"
Pellegrini: "That's supposition. I don't think it is good today to answer those things. We had the restriction and we had to do it."
Pellegrini is right. The limitations on City imposed by Uefa last May - a £49m net cap on spending in the summer's transfer market, and a stipulation that the total wages of next season's City Champions League squad must not exceed last season - made the £59.7m United laid out for Di Maria impossible.
But the most ardent fan from the blue side of Manchester could not fail to argue that Di Maria has instilled something to fear in the United side. Pellegrini knows it. He saw Di Maria's very considerable contribution - two goals and three assists - on the four occasions he played for Real Madrid against the Chilean's Malaga side.
What makes Di Maria's presence across town all the more galling is that the failure of City's own acquisitions to deliver has been a substantial part of the reason why City are at best "similar" to last season and arguably inferior.
Eliaquim Mangala looks vulnerable and Pellegrini's initial unwillingness to field him understandable. Fernando was strong against Liverpool and Newcastle United but was injured against Stoke City and has been unconvincing since.
But the factor which has swung the derby weekend optimism in United's direction has been the sense that they are the team with more than one plan.
Louis van Gaal has tried numerous combinations already in the past two months - 4-2-3-1, 3-4-1-2, 3-3-3-1 - to fit the players at his disposal, while Pellegrini has looked like a manager with only one idea.
City's familiar strategy of playing through the centre - generally 4-4-2 - has allowed opponents, like Newcastle in midweek, to pack out the central space and City have not looked for alternative ways of working.
Pellegrini, who disclosed yesterday that the decision to play David Silva in midweek has backfired disastrously with the Spaniard's subsequent knee injury keeping him out for three weeks, denied there was a predictability.
"I think that every manager knows the way a team plays and the performance of the players in that game makes the difference. During the game I always make changes to try and improve the performance in defending and attacking."
The statistics on Pellegrini's ability to recover losing half-time positions are not encouraging though.
In nine of the 12 Premier League he has trailed at the interval, City have lost. In four out of seven games at Real Madrid, the outcome was the same.