Belfast Telegraph

Weary Manchester City have Pellegrini tense after Stoke loss

Stoke City 2-0 Man City

By Simon Hart

Manuel Pellegrini left the Britannia Stadium on Saturday bemoaning a jaded performance by his Manchester City players but he does not expect to make significant changes for tomorrow's Champions League match against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Pellegrini said after the 2-0 defeat at Stoke City that his side were suffering the effects of too many injuries as they compete on four fronts, but he added that the absentee list meant he was unlikely to rest many players.

"We cannot protect the players because we must try to win the game to finish top of the group," said Pellegrini. "If you are asking me what is more important, of course it is the Premier League and to win the title but you need names to make changes and we do not have those names. All those names are injured."

City were group runners-up in their two previous European campaigns, earning the dubious reward each time of a last-16 tie against Barcelona. They will leapfrog Group D leaders Juventus this time only if they beat Monchengladbach and Juve lose to Sevilla.

But whatever follows in Europe, Saturday's dismal display raised fresh doubts about City's title credentials at home. They have plenty of players - Pellegrini has used 18 in their last three games - but it seems they need certain individuals, specifically the absent trio of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, to really fire. As Match of the Day highlighted, they have not lost any of the eight league fixtures in which Kompany has played this season, conceding once, while without him they have lost four of seven, conceding 15 goals. The Belgian is currently absent with his third calf injury this year, but Pellegrini dismissed the need for an investigation into City's succession of physical problems - over 30 separate injuries or illnesses to players this term, the latest a hamstring problem suffered by Fernando on Saturday.

Regardless of personnel, there was also a worrying lack of desire from a team which began Saturday as league leaders but ended it below Leicester City and Arsenal. Their last four league away fixtures have yielded just one goal and two points and Pellegrini admitted the manner of their latest defeat was not acceptable.

Mark Hughes's Stoke players had watched Liverpool's high-energy display against City - as well as the way Spurs played in beating them 4-1 in September - and Pellegrini's team, as on those two occasions, could not cope. If it was possible to point the finger at Fernando, Aleksandar Kolarov and Bacary Sagna for their roles in Stoke's goals, City were poor right across the pitch.

"We need to look for different ways to improve this kind of game," said Pellegrini. "It's important not to lose the complete view - we are [near the] top of the table and [still] in all the competitions [but] of course losing like we did against Stoke or against Liverpool is not the way a big team must do it." That said, he still insisted "the most important reason" was fatigue.

Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland was not exaggerating when he said "they couldn't actually live with us". The home side took a grip on the game through Marco Arnautovic's early goals and might have scored five or six.

Hughes pointed to his team's "good energy in midfield" from Geoff Cameron and Ibrahim Afellay and the quality of Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Arnautovic, who combined superbly in their first game as front three.

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