SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Manuel Pellegrini insisted he had no regrets about making eight changes to his Manchester City side ahead of this week’s trip to face Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals.
The City manager admitted his team’s 4-2 defeat against Southampton at St Mary’s stadium could affect confidence as the Premier League club prepare for the visit to the Bernabeu Stadium.
But Pellegrini, who was frustrated Sunday’s meeting with Southampton was not moved to Friday or Saturday to give his side more time to prepare, insisted he had no choice but to make wholesale changes and protect his key players.
“We knew before the game it was a risk to put so many players without football against a difficult team but we have to take those risks because we have an important game on Wednesday,” he said.
“Maybe if we had played on Saturday we could put more players but it was a risk similar to the FA Cup that we had to play.
“I would do exactly the same again because we have an important game on Wednesday that we play now for the final in the Champions League.
“We continue in the Premier League what we are going to do in the next two games to be in the top four so that was a risk but one we also had to take.
“I always say the best way to prepare the next game is to win and that’s why we did so well before Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid, we won our games before in the Premier League.
“Today I don’t know why we defended so bad in the first half, those were the two goals that decided the game. We scored one goal, we had another clear chance to equalise but we didn’t and after that the set pieces decided the game.”
Pellegrini made no attempt to disguise his disappointment at his side’s defensive display as Sadio Mane’s hat-trick following an opening goal from Shane Long secured Southampton’s victory.
But he made it clear the performance was the players’ responsibility with only Kelechi Iheanacho, the scorer of both City goals, emerging with credit.
Pellegrini, who confirmed he expects Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Kevin de Bruyne to be fit to face Real, added: “It’s my responsibility for the starting eleven and after that you have their performance and you must analyze everything.
“I’m very disappointed especially in the defending because we were doing well in the other games. It was the same players who played other games.
“We start thinking tomorrow about what will be the starting 11 for Wednesday. Kelechi today scored two goals and is doing well in all the games but for the moment I am not thinking about that.”
Southampton’s win strengthened their bid for a Europa League place and manager Ronald Koeman sdingled out Mane for praise.
He said: “Sadio can be a bit unpredictable but he was focused and clinical. That was one of my criticisms to all of the strikers but we are very productive at home with more chances to score more.
“He is still a young player and sometimes they need to be more consistent and that is why we train and work with all the players to get a team who knows what they can and when we get problems and that is all about development of the individual player and the development of the team.”