Manuel Pellegrini granted AS an interview ahead of Manchester City’s Champions League semi-final against his former club, Real Madrid.
You said after the draw that you were happy to be playing Madrid. Why?
They were the team that we wanted but if we had got Atlético or Bayern it would have been all the same to us. All three have the same level of difficulty and it’s important for us to play against a team of the calibre of Real Madrid.
Do you see the tie as a chance to settle a score?
No, I don’t have any scores to settle with anyone.
Do you see the tie as a chance for revenge on Florentino Pérez for sacking you?
I don’t have anything against Florentino Pérez or the Real Madrid board. I was lucky enough to be the manager of that great institution for a season when the situation maybe wasn’t the best it could have been. But we performed in La Liga, it was Real’s best season in history up to that point. For me it has always been a source of pride to have managed Real Madrid and I don’t have any desire for revenge against anybody.
Is getting to the final an extra motivation after a difficult season with the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s appointment?
I don’t know what you describe as a difficult season. We won the League Cup, we’re in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history and we’re third in the Premier League, in the Champions League places for next season. It hasn’t been a difficult season at all. We want to end the campaign with a great finish in Europe and try to win the tournament because it would be a great achievement for this club, who before I arrived had never made it to the knock-out stages.
Have you prioritized the Champions League over the Premier League because it is the main objective?
Well, we have made progress in the Champions League. Unfortunately in the two previous seasons we weren’t able to do that. Particularly in my first season here we were in good form going into the tie against Barcelona, who weren’t playing that well at the time, and we could have gone through but we didn’t. The following season we came up against a fantastic Barça who were far better than we were. This season we have made progress. Of course winning the Champions League is one of this club’s objectives. Hopefully we can do it this year. But I don’t think winning it or not will mean the end of this project because of the way in which this club thinks.
How can you hurt Real Madrid?
By playing as we do. We’re not going to change our style because we’re playing Real Madrid. We have high quality players in our team and we have to play a very complete game. The tie lasts 180 minutes and we are at home for the first game. The best thing for us to do is to play as we normally do but also taking into account the qualities that Real Madrid have.
Against Barcelona two season ago you played with two holding midfielders to stop Messi. Have you got a special plan for Cristiano Ronaldo?
On that occasion we tried a new way of playing. We were carrying it out very well until the penalty award against Demichelis, which wasn’t a penalty because it was outside the area. From there the game changed. It was lot harder. We can change our tactics at times but the personality of the team will always remain the same: when we recover the ball we have to try and get to the opposition area and not lose the ball. That is the way this team has played since I arrived three years ago.
Is Ronaldo your biggest concern?
Cristiano has had an incredible impact at Real Madrid in every season since he went there. Of course the player who scores the most goals is the main worry. But if we only concentrate on putting a lid on Ronaldo it would be a huge mistake because they have other players like Bale, Benzema, Kroos and Modric. They are a formidable side and we have to play as a team to match them.
Do you think he may be ruled out with his injury?
Hopefully for his sake and Real Madrid’s he recovers. He normally plays in every single game so I don’t think he’ll have any problems to be fit for the game.
Is this Madrid side very different to the one you managed?
Of course there have been many changes because that was six years ago. The squad is different, there are still some players there from my time but the team plays differently. It is a very good Real Madrid side.
You’ve won five of your last seven games and knocked out PSG. Are you in your best form of the season going into the tie?
I don’t know if we’re in our best form but we are in a very good moment. The results are evidence of that, the number of goals we’ve scored, the number we’ve conceded… advancing in the Champions League as group winners and then knocking out PSG in the quarters when everybody considered them favourites was very important for this team because never before had we had the experience of playing in the latter stages of the Champions League. It’s a good time to play Madrid.
You’ve got Kevin de Bruyne back and Agüero is averaging a goal a game…
Yes, I think both sides are going into the tie in good shape. Three weeks ago Real Madrid were in the doldrums, 12 points behind Barcelona. Now they have recovered. It’s important to go into this phase of the Champions League in strong form. It’s going to be a great show.
Vincent Kompany didn’t play against Stoke. Is he ok?
Yes, he is fine. It was a risk for him to play three days after playing against Newcastle after coming back from a long injury layoff. He’s fine.
Is the fact that Real Madrid are now in a title race favourable for you?
I think all the big clubs have to be thinking about the Champions League and the domestic league equally. I say that in relation to Manchester City as well if they want to be a big club. You can’t leave the league to one side because it is important. The same thing can happen to you as happened to Barcelona when you get into the knock-out stages in Europe and you get knocked out but you have to still concentrate on the league and fight for the title. That’s what Real Madrid do and it’s what we are trying to do as well. That is what defines the mentality of a big club.