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Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini was in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to see first-hand how the club’s football school at the capital’s Zayed Sports City was getting on and to meet some of the children being taught to play the City way.

He took time to speak to Sport360° editor Steve McKenlay about City’s season so far, his impressions of the Premier League and whether he thinks his club can win the title in what is developing into one of the closest championship races for years with just six points separating the top eight clubs.

Having qualified for the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in City’s history he spoke confidently about the club’s prospects for the rest of the season and hinted that there could be some activity in the January transfer window with emphasis on ensuring the club had the strongest possible squad for the challenges ahead.

The subject of goalkeeper Joe Hart, who has been dropped after a run of bad form, was off limits as he is playing for England on Tuesday night but there is a feeling that he will return to the team with his confidence fully restored as the club targets reclaiming the Premier League crown and success in the all important Champions League.

Q How do you feel about City’s season so far? You are lying eighth in the table at the moment with six wins, one draw and four defeats. Is that what you expected at this stage?

A No, it is not what I expected but it is not a big problem. We are only a few points off the leaders. There are more important things at the moment rather than what position in the table we are in.

I am happy with what the team have done so far. We are the league’s top scorers with 28 goals in 11 games in the Premier League, 11 goals in the Champions League and seven goals in the Capital One Cup so I think we are well on the way to putting this club into the position to achieve what it deserves.

How do you explain the situation where one week you can score seven goals against Norwich and then another you lose to Sunderland in a game you were expected to win?

I explain that situation with two words – that’s football. That is why it is the most popular game in the world because you never know who is going to win.

Ok, the strongest team will probably win the title at the end of the season but in one match you never know, anything can happen.

Do you think because it is Manchester City that clubs like Sunderland are always going to raise their game, making it more difficult for you guys to go away and get a result at teams like that?

Teams who are at the bottom always try to give their best against us but we are used to that. It is not a problem for us. We have lost important points playing away but I think we can play better as we move forward so I am not really concerned.

What do you say to your players when you come away from a game like that having lost what could, at the end of the season, prove to be vital points?

It is always important to remember what we did in the last game. Not only when you lose but also when you win because when you win you also make mistakes.

It is important, every week, to include everything you are doing, especially in my case. I am just starting working in this league so it is very important for the players to know how I want to play.

So when we lose we look at a summary of everything that happened in the game and I go through it with them so we understand what happened and how to improve.

As you say, this is your first season in the Premier League. Perhaps you came here with preconceived ideas of what the league was going to be like. Have you been surprised by how competitive this league is this season, and have you had to change the way you intended the team to play to cope with what you have experienced?

It is my first year in the Premier League but I have been working in Europe for a long time so there haven’t really been any surprises.

This year the Premier League is very close because I think all the teams are stronger this season which is a good thing. One of the worst things that happened in Spain while I was there was that, finally, the two big clubs (Barcelona and Real Madrid) were too strong for all the other clubs, so the Premier League is currently the most competitive in Europe, so it is a good place to be.

At the start of the season you showed faith in Edin Dzeko and maybe he didn’t score as many goals as you would have liked. He is no longer a regular first choice and you now have Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero, joint top scorer in the league, who seem to be playing well together and have formed an effective strike force. Does that mean Dzeko may be for sale in the January transfer window?

No, that is not the case. I put my trust in him before the season and I have just as much trust in him now. It is very important for this club to have a good squad.

We have a lot of games to play from now until April and if we want to win trophies we need important players. Maybe at the moment he is not playing as much as he would like but he remains an important part of the squad.

Do you think Manchester City, one of the pre-season favourites for the title, can win it?

Of course. We are only six points off the lead at the moment which is a good place to be. We have a lot of time left in the season and I think the team is playing well enough to win it. No question.

You are here to see the Manchester City Soccer School in Abu Dhabi. How important do you think a school like this is for the club and for Abu Dhabi?

It is very important for Abu Dhabi and the club. The younger the kids can start playing, the better they will be in the years ahead. Maybe we will find a future Manchester City star here.

 

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