MANCHESTER City boss Manuel Pellegrini was last night at the centre of a riddle over whether he made a costly miscalculation that soured an otherwise landmark Champions League victory over Bayern Munich.
City recovered from a disastrous start that saw them go two goals behind inside 12 minutes to beat arguably the world’s best team, thanks to strikes from David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov and James Milner.
Just one more goal would have been enough for City to deny holders Bayern top spot in Group D and ensure a far easier draw in the last 16, rather than a tie with Barcelona, one of the Madrid sides or Paris Saint-Germain.
Yet with nothing to lose and Sergio Aguero among the substitutes Pellegrini failed to go for broke and left his top scorer on the bench, instead introducing midfielder Jack Rodwell for striker Edin Dzeko.
The Chilean manager aroused suspicion that he may not have realised City only needed one more goal to overtake Bayern when he explained his reticence to send on Aguero in a post-match interview.
“I was tempted if we scored the fourth goal of course, that’s why I sent him to warm up,” he said, appearing to suggest he wrong believed City needed to win by three clear goals.
“But also I think that it was a risk to continue with Silva because he can’t play more than 70 minutes today. I repeat, for our team it’s important to be top of the group but not the most important thing. It was difficult to score two goals and I think that Silva couldn’t play more than 70 minutes.”
Pellegrini was asked again in a press conference and gave a similar answer. Television pundit and former England defender Jamie Carragher said: “It looks to us like he wasn’t aware of what would get City through.”
Such a scenario looked improbable when Thomas Mueller escaped Kolarov to shoot Bayern into a fifth-minute lead. And the German treble winners looked bound for a record 11th successive Champions League win when Mario Goetze beat Joe Hart from close range.
IN THE LAST 16
■ Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich
■ Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Manchester City
Through but placing not decided
■ Chelsea, Barcelona + 7 others