Manuel Pellegrini admits he has been surprised by Manchester United’s decline this season.
David Moyes’ side enter Tuesday’s derby at Old Trafford 12 points behind Pellegrini’s Manchester City and in seventh place in the table. And the City manager, whose side beat United 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium in September, admitted he thought at the start of the season that his local rivals would be in the top three.
He said: “All the other clubs expected United would be in the first positions in the table. For different reasons at this reason they are not but they continue to be a difficult team.”
Pellegrini admitted he feels sympathy for Moyes, who replaced Sir Alex Ferguson when the older man, who had been in charge since 1986, retired last year.
He added: “It is difficult because [for] so many years, the same person manages a team and with new ideas. It is difficult to analyse not knowing it from the inside. But it would always be difficult to replace Alex Ferguson."
Pellegrini said in February that City are now bigger than United but insisted his comments only related to a season when his side, unlike their local rivals, have won silverware and are challenging for the title.
He explained: “I meant in this season, the best team is Manchester City because we are at the top of the table -- but at the same moment I said we must recognise what Manchester United have done in the last 20 years.”
The Chilean said City have made progress in recent seasons in a bid to emulate the more established powers.
He added: “I think this club is trying to work in the last four years to reduce the difference we have against important teams, against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.”
Pellegrini also believes Yaya Toure is the best goalscoring midfielder in the world. The Ivorian is in the most prolific season of his career and reached the 20-goal landmark for the first time with a hat trick against Fulham on Saturday.
His manager said: “At the moment because of the number of goals he has scored, of course [he is.] But I think that Yaya is not just about the goals he scored. He is a complete midfielder, very good. He gives important assistance as well.”
City have been boosted by the news that Edin Dzeko, who missed the 5-0 win over Fulham because of an illness, is available again. The Bosnian striker trained on both Sunday and Monday.