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Man City aim to remain top vs. Palace

Five Aside
 By Tony Evans

Manchester City are one big, expensive mess under Manuel Pellegrini

Most of football would experience great pleasure if Manchester City fail to make the top four in the Premier League. The failings of the rich always delight their less wealthy rivals and the way City handled the announcement of Pep Guardiola's imminent arrival and the departure of Manuel Pellegrini was clumsy.

Pellegrini has garnered plenty of sympathy for the manner in which the club has treated him. Since it was made public that he is to be replaced, City's league form has been atrocious. They have won two matches, drawn one and lost four. The teams they have picked up victories against are Sunderland and Aston Villa. The draw was against Norwich City. That is three of the bottom four. At the other end of the table, West Ham United and Manchester United believe they can overhaul City in the final two months of the season to finish in the top four.

Little blame for this slump has been directed at Pellegrini. The club, general wisdom suggests, turned him into a lame-duck manager. In truth, the 62-year-old's record in Manchester has been pretty lame overall. One Premier League title and two League Cups in three years represents underachievement for a club with City's ambitions. It is hard to imagine Pellegrini adding to his trophy haul despite his team's presence in the Champions League quarterfinals. Even if they advance past Paris Saint-Germain, the last four will be too strong for City.

The squad at the Etihad is loaded with individual talent, but the team are a mess. Their 1-0 defeat by the worst United side in Premier League history highlighted their dysfunction. City were flat, lacked the invention to trouble Louis van Gaal's side and showed barely any signs of the zest they can produce when at their best.

The torpor was visible long before the Guardiola announcement. City have won league games away from home just twice since September. The defence is in shambles, especially without Vincent Kompany, and Pellegrini has been unable to inspire or cajole the likes of Yaya Toure and David Silva into displaying their game-changing form on a regular basis.

Few players have emerged from this season with much credit. Joe Hart is always reliable and Sergio Aguero shows boundless appetite. How many other City players will be able to look back on this season with much pride, despite last month's League Cup victory against Liverpool?

After the volatile tenure of Roberto Mancini, Pellegrini arrived at the Etihad like a calm spell that follows a tornado. The feeling of well-being continued when City won the title and the League Cup in his first season. Since then, it has become clear that the manager did not bring a sense of serenity with him to Manchester. It is inertia. Pellegrini's teams switch off in games they should dominate. They lose matches after bossing the play in a style that should have put them out of sight of the opposition.

The worst culprit is Toure. The Ivorian should be the dominant midfielder in the Premier League. In an era when shorter players are in fashion, Toure strides like a giant among them. He can outmuscle almost any of his peers. He has an abundance of pace for a big man and allied to his power is a touch of delicate beauty. Yet Toure, 32, too often strolls around with the air of a man who cannot be bothered with all the effort. His attitude was always open to question, but his commitment appears to have deteriorated under Pellegrini.

Guardiola will restore a sense of vigour to City. The Catalan's intensity and energy is inspiring, especially on the training ground. He demands the same sort of effort from his players. Indolence on or off the pitch will not be tolerated. He has plenty of work ahead of him, though. The squad needs an overhaul and an injection of youth.

Pellegrini gets all the pity because of the way his spell at City is ending, but the Chilean has not taken the club forward during his three years in charge. If he bequeaths his successor a Europa League place, it will be Guardiola who deserves the sympathy.

Van Gaal misses the point
The latest episode of the Louis van Gaal tragi-comedy brought us plenty of laughs. The Dutchman claimed credit for Southampton's comeback victory by claiming his Manchester United side exhausted Liverpool in the Europa League match last week. Jurgen Klopp's team let a 2-0 lead slip as Southampton scored three and Van Gaal said: "I can only conclude it was because of tiredness and that is what we have done to them."

It seems Van Gaal has missed the point of cup competitions. The object is to knock out the opposition, not tire them out.

Think Manchester United are missing Danny Welbeck?
Talking of Van Gaal, what rationale can there ever have been for letting Danny Welbeck leave Old Trafford for Arsenal? The 25-year-old's long absence with a knee injury means the striker assumed the status of a forgotten man during the past year, but he has returned to play as well as ever. Welbeck's pace stretches and worries defences and his nose for goal looks even better than before his injury. Arsene Wenger has not rushed Welbeck back and deserves credit for that. Arsenal look much more threatening with the striker in the team. Manchester United could do with such an experienced and willing forward now, even taking into account Marcus Rashford's emergence.

Crystal Palace are tanking
Crystal Palace were fifth in the Premier League at the halfway point in the season. They have not won since. Now they are in 16th place, reversing toward the relegation trapdoor at real pace. They are seven points clear of the drop zone, but unless manager Alan Pardew can instill some confidence, it is hard to see them winning again this season. When games are on the line, Palace panic, drop deeper and concede territory -- and goals -- to the opposition. Pardew's fury is palpable, but rage must be constructive and there's little sign of that at Selhurst Park.


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