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Leg 1
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Toronto FC
FC Dallas
12:00 AM UTC May 26, 2018
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New York City FC
12:55 AM UTC May 26, 2018
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3:00 AM UTC May 26, 2018
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Real Madrid
ESPN3 6:45 PM UTC May 26, 2018
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Aston Villa
4:00 PM UTC May 26, 2018
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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Manuel Pellegrini a charming man with fierce ambitions after Manchester City

A reference to local rock legends The Smiths, whose guitarist Johnny Marr is a Manchester City season-ticket holder, a "This Charming Man" banner hanging from the Etihad's north stand reflects the urbane, holistic image Manuel Pellegrini has carved for himself since arriving in June 2013.

That was only augmented by the understated fashion in which Pellegrini announced that this season would be his last at City.

"They are not doing anything behind my back, but I don't think it's good to keep up the speculation," Pellegrini said on Feb. 1, prefacing the club's announcement of Pep Guardiola's appointment.

Such frankness won Pellegrini acclaim for his dignity in accepting his fate. Recent weeks, though, have seen him reveal another, far more steely side to his character. Pellegrini the ruthless pragmatist has been placed in full public view.

Prior to his side's 5-1 defeat at Chelsea last Sunday in the FA Cup fifth round, Pellegrini said: "I would not pay for the ticket," and duly selected a massively understrength team, including five teenage debutants, that drew anger from those who still believe in the FA Cup's magical qualities.

Pellegrini had aimed a sacrilegious cold shower at the oldest competition in club football, rebelled against its organisers and those television companies who scheduled the fixture for his injury-hit squad for a Sunday afternoon. His focus was instead fixed firmly on Wednesday's Champions League round of 16 visit to Dynamo Kiev, where a 3-1 victory and one of his team's best performances in months supplied vindication.

"I think it's important to take the right decision and think about a lot of things, about why you take this decision," he said after the match.

"But in this case, having just 13 players, it was a key decision to rest the team that day. Unfortunately we could not continue in the FA Cup."

Should City see out the second leg, Pellegrini will have achieved one of the key objectives handed to him on his appointment. Chief among the reasons for City turning to Pellegrini to replace Roberto Mancini was the expectation that he could improve the club's Champions League performance; the Italian could never take his team beyond the group stage.

After being knocked out by Barcelona in the round of 16 in each of the past two seasons, City are set fair to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. Sunday's League Cup final with Liverpool, meanwhile, gives Pellegrini another opportunity to meet the expectations of his paymaster.

"I would say I want to win five trophies in the next five years," chief executive Ferran Soriano said in May 2013 as Pellegrini was being lined up to replace Mancini.

"On average I want one title a year."

Victory on Sunday would make it three trophies in three years. With the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich heavy favourites for the Champions League, and this season's Premier League challenge floundering after seven defeats and City six points off Leicester's lead, the Capital One Cup will likely end up completing Pellegrini's haul but it can still be a significant augmentation to his curriculum vitae.

Man City fans with Pellegrini banner
Manchester City fans' banner for boss Manuel Pellegrini.

At 62, he is by no means done with football management, and though it is not in his nature to respond to gossip, as many an enquiring journalist has found, there is little doubt that he is open to offers for next season. Among the reasons for City making the Pellegrini/Guardiola announcement as early as February was the outgoing manager's desire to announce his availability.

Though City might have been expected to win more in his time at the Etihad, with their failure to defend their sole Premier League title a particular regret, Pellegrini has still retained the image of being a careful, calm hand.

Uninterested in succeeding Jorge Sampaoli as Chilean national coach, another job in European football is the aim. For clubs like Chelsea or Valencia, with managers Guus Hiddink and Gary Neville only in temporary charge, Pellegrini is an option who can provide stability; a coach who does not challenge a club's hierarchy and has rarely been found to fall out with his players.

In Spanish football, where Pellegrini took both Villarreal and Malaga into the Champions League and led them to a semifinal and quarterfinal respectively, his reputation remains high. He may have been sacked by Real Madrid after a single season in the summer of 2010 after finishing second to Barcelona, but his team had amassed 96 points and scored 102 goals, and he was shunted aside when club president Florentino Perez wanted to bring Galactico coach Jose Mourinho in.

On Wednesday in Kiev, Pellegrini made careful mention of the upward curve that City have enjoyed under his management.

"The last two seasons we qualified for the last 16 and this season we made the important progress of winning the group, which was an improvement from last season," he said, after City had won a knockout Champions League match for the first time in the club's history.

Wembley on Sunday can give him another opportunity to underline his credentials. The charm that City fans celebrate masks a fierce personal ambition.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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