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Guardiola appointment not behind City's slump - Pellegrini

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini during the prss conference Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley Livepic
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini during the prss conferenceAction Images via Reuters / John SibleyLivepic

By Igor Nitsak

KIEV (Reuters) - Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has rejected the notion that the club's announcement that Pep Guardiola will take over at the end of the season has derailed their campaign.

“Really, that's not the problem," the Chilean told a news conference on the eve of the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie at Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday.

City have, however, been hit by injuries, especially in midfield, and are without Fabian Delph, Kevin De Bruyne, Jesus Navas, Wilfried Bony and Samir Nasri.

The club announced on Feb. 1 that Bayern Munich coach Guardiola would replace Pellegrini at the Etihad stadium from July and since then their form has nosedived.

City won at Sunderland in the Premier League the day after Guardiola's arrival was confirmed but they have since lost home games to title rivals Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur and exited the FA Cup with a humiliating 5-1 defeat at Chelsea.

The Kiev game will be followed four days later by the League Cup final against Liverpool in a crucial period that could determine whether Pellegrini's last season ends with a trophy.

"All the players and staff are thinking about just this season. We have important challenges this year and we are focused in every game," he said on Tuesday.

“Tomorrow is the Champions League, after that we have the (League Cup) final at Wembley on Sunday, and on Wednesday we return in the Premier League (at Liverpool) -- it's very easy because we are focusing on winning silverware this season.”

With City's Premier League title hopes dented by successive defeats, Pellegrini faced heavy criticism for fielding a second-string team in their FA Cup fifth round loss at Chelsea.

But the coach noted his team's injury woes and said he was forced to prioritise the Champions League.

City have never got past the last 16 and were eliminated by Barcelona at that stage in the previous two seasons.

While Pellegrini's side wrestle with injuries and fixture congestion, Kiev are well rested and set for their first official match after a 2-1/2 month winter break.

"Last time we were eliminated by Barcelona at this stage, but now we are facing Dynamo and hopefully, this time, the result will be positive," Pellegrini said.

"We have a great chance to get through. But only the best teams can make it to the Champions League knockout round and this is true for Dynamo too."

(Writing by Toby Davis; editing by Ken Ferris)

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