Manuel Pellegrini feels safe even if Manchester City make European exit

David Cooper 17/03/2015
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Making his point: Manuel Pellegrini says he retains the faith of his employers.

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has again defended his position following increased speculation over his future. Pellegrini is under growing scrutiny as City’s season threatens to unravel and end in underachievement.

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City now seem unlikely to retain their Premier League crown having fallen six points behind Chelsea, who have a game in hand, after a run of just three wins in nine games.

Their hopes of salvaging something from the campaign now seem to comedown to the unlikely prospect of overturning a 2-1 deficit at Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday.

City axed Roberto Mancini after a frustrating 2012/13 season, just a year after winning the title, and – based on that – Pellegrini’s prospects could be bleak. But the Chilean, who last week expressed desire to stay beyond the end of his current contract in 2016, has reiterated his belief that is not the situation.

Pellegrini, in a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian and Daily Mail newspapers, said: “Roberto left the club for other reasons, not because he didn’t win anything one year.

“It’s not ‘if you don’t win, you’re out’. Of course winning trophies here is extremely important. I understand you can’t just say, ‘It doesn’t matter, we’ll come in fourth or fifth because we’ve got a longterm project’.

“But in the last four years this team has won two leagues, come second once, and won the FA Cup and the Capital One Cup. I have never felt the situation is that if I don’t win I am out whatever happens.”

City have not built on last year’s second title success in three seasons and Pellegrini feels his team is still lacking a “crack” player to complement the firepower he already has.

Last summer’s spending had to be restricted as punishment for the club’s failure to comply with European governing body UEFA’s Financial Fair Play restrictions.

Pellegrini said: “This year we improved the squad while working within those limits. What we did not do was bring in a crack. I think this team now needs a crack, another special player just to give us that sense that we are now at another level.

“I was at Malaga, a club in debt, so I understand that you have to avoid clubs having unsustainable budgets, accumulating unpaid debts. “But preventing you from investing, speculating, is absurd. It’s anticompetitive.”

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Ramos blasts Madrid fans for jeering of manager Ancelotti

Andy West 17/03/2015
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Lay off the boss: Sergio Ramos (l) has launched a strong defence of manager Carlo Ancelotti.

Returning Real Madrid star Sergio Ramos has given his unequivocal backing to under-fire manager Carlo Ancelotti after the Italian coach was whistled by a small section of the Bernabeu crowd during Sunday’s home win over Levante.

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The 2-0 victory, secured by a first half brace from Gareth Bale, got Los Blancos back into winning ways after their previous three outings resulted in one draw and two defeats.

But the reaction from the Bernabeu public was far from overjoyed, with some supporters responding with whistles when other fans chanted Ancelotti’s name towards the end of the encounter.

Ramos, who made his return to action following a six-week lay-off with a hamstring injury, believes Ancelotti should be given greater respect by the team’s supporters, saying: “He’s a great manager and, more than that, a great person. He knows how to deal with situations like this.”

The experience centre back also appeared to take a swipe at Ancelotti’s predecessor Jose Mourinho, with whom he endured a famously tempestuous relationship, as he added: “If there’s a coach who deserves respect, considering what others have been allowed to do or forgiven for, it’s Ancelotti.”

Somebody else receiving support from Ramos was frontman Cristiano Ronaldo, who looked a picture of frustration throughout Sunday’s game as he squandered a series of chances to remain goalless for the fifth time in his last seven league outings.

In particular, Ronaldo has been criticised for petulant reactions to Bale’s two goals, with the Portuguese star clearly looking irritated that he did not find the target himself before begrudgingly going over to offer half-hearted congratulations to the Welshman.

Ramos, however, insisted that Ronaldo’s sulkiness is part and parcel of his greatness and argued that any irritation he demonstrates is only with himself, not with his teammates who happen to score at his expense.

“Being Cristiano is difficult, he’s been at such a high level for so many years,” reasoned Ramos.

“He knows that better than anyone. He’s used to scoring 60 goals a year and when he gets 40 he’s not happy – he has a very competitive character and nobody will change it. But we’re not worried about him gesturing. We need to be grateful for what he brings to the side.”

And after being absent for his team’s recent dip in form, Ramos was delighted to be back in action and believes his team can head into next weekend’s Clasico with confidence despite their recent struggles.

“I was really keen to get back playing and perform at my top level, and the best way to do that is with a win,” he said. “We’re not playing well, but in the Clasico our honour and badge are at stake.”

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#360view: Ramos return a Real boost

Andy West 17/03/2015
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Sergio Ramos has been missed by Real Madrid over recent weeks.

Love him or hate him – and for many people it’s the latter – the last few weeks have again proven that Sergio Ramos is absolutely indispensable to Real Madrid.

– #Quiz360: WIN a group paintball session at Zayed Sports City
– Lionel Messi double moves Barcelona four points clear
– Off The Bar: Thriller in Rooney’s villa, Matt Phillips football

During the central defender’s six-week absence with a hamstring injury, Los Blancos won only four of their eight games, suffering an embarrassing 4-0 local derby hammering against Atletico, losing at home against Schalke and encountering another defeat against midtable Athletic Bilbao.

His first game back, in marked contrast, delivered three points and a clean sheet in Sunday’s 2-0 stroll over Levante. Of course, that was significantly aided by the fact that Levante played poorly, and Ramos was by no means the only factor behind his team’s upturn: Luka Modric’s return from injury and Gareth Bale’s drastic personal improvement were also vital.

But with Ramos back alongside his trusted defensive partner Pepe, there was a look of assurance and authority which had been conspicuous by his absence over recent weeks, especially during the four-goal debacles against Schalke and Atletico.

Ramos is one of those players whose mere presence lifts the performance of those around him. As well as intimidating opponents, the aggression and physicality which has got him into such trouble with referees over the years (he has been red-carded on a club record 19 occasions) also serves as a spark and a warning to his teammates.

If you’re playing alongside Ramos, delivering a half-hearted effort is not an option. The same level of full-blooded commitment which he displays is also expected of everyone around him, along with a stubborn refusal to accept defeat until the final whistle.

That trait was most famously evident, of course, in Madrid’s most recent famous victory when he netted the last-minute leveller to force extra time in last season’s ultimately triumphant Champions League final victory over Atletico. 

And it is an attitude which has been all too lacking during the team’s dip in form over the last few weeks, starting with the 4-0 humbling in the Vicente Calderon against Atletico – if Ramos had been on the pitch, you can be sure, the contest wouldn’t have been quite so one-sided.

With Sunday’s mouthwatering Clasico trip to Barcelona looming, Ramos’s return to action has clearly come at a crucial time. It is a game that Madrid cannot afford to lose.

If they do, they will be four points behind the leaders and therefore needing Barca to drop points in at least two of their remaining 10 games to have even a mathematical chance of taking the title.

Going up against the combined and in-form might of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, the effectiveness of Madrid’s defence will obviously play a key role in determining the outcome.

As Malaga and Celta Vigo have shown this season, it is possible to win and even keep a clean sheet at the Nou Camp, but only with great levels of organisation, teamwork, commitment and rigour. And with the inspirational Ramos finally back in the fold, Madrid’s chances of reigniting their title challenge suddenly got a bit better.

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