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Thursday 17 August 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Mourinho grins while City blow it at Anfield

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers shakes hands with Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers shakes hands with Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini

JOSE Mourinho could hardly have had a better day.

Another trophy to his collection and Manchester City self-destruct against Liverpool. No wonder he was smiling.

He'll win at least one more this season judging by what I saw at Anfield. I can't see Manchester City as champions and I suspect that this will be Manuel Pellegrini's last season in charge.

Brendan Rodgers turned a bad week into a good week and deserves enormous credit for the effort even if I wasn't overflowing with enthusiasm on the way back from Istanbul after covering the Beskitas game for ITV.

I stepped off the same plane with Rodgers and his players at 6am on Friday. I'm still tired after it and I really have no idea how Liverpool gave such a magnificent account of themselves against Manchester City.

These days we hear a lot about player recovery and the science of fitness but sometimes it's just about attitude and will power.

Rodgers has been very careful with Daniel Sturridge because, as I know myself, when you come back from a bad injury you'll get by for the first three or four games on adrenaline but then you hit a wall.

managed

So Sturridge had to be managed very carefully but even with all of the high tech medical aids which Premier League clubs now have available, sometimes you just can't beat the clock. He didn't come on until the 78th minute yesterday.

It would have been no surprise if the rest of the players looked tired at Anfield. The squad didn't get their heads down properly until 8am on Friday after extra-time, penalties and a defeat and had to be right on it not much more than 48 hours later.

That's when a manager needs players to go to the well and it is a very good sign indeed that they were able to do it and bounce back from that Europa Cup exit.

This was a huge win for Rodgers and his team and a great answer to critics, myself included, who watched the game against Besiktas with frowns on our faces.

I could not for the life of me understand what he was thinking when he played two up in Istanbul, a decision which set Liverpool up to be beaten by a gritty Besiktas team with a clever coach, Slaven Bilic.

It was the first time Rodgers tried it and I can't figure out why he did it but Liverpool lost a game they could have won and a door to the Champions League slammed shut.

But I'm greatly encouraged by the fact that Rodgers cquickly corrected this mistake and returned to the formula which has helped dig him out of a deep hole. He was rewarded with a win against a Manchester City team still reeling from just as bad a European performance as Liverpool's.

The difference between the two managers in this case is that Manuel Pellegrini tried to play two up against Barcelona, collapsed in midfield and then repeated the mistake against Liverpool.

Manchester City were pulled apart by the triangle which developed between Joe Allen, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana who played some wonderful give and go football and exposed Pellegrini's limitations.

Before the game, if you asked me to choose between the two midfield line-ups, I would have picked Yaya Toure, David Silva and Fernandinho without hesitation

Across the pitch, Pellegrini has better options than Rodgers so it is difficult to look any further than the manager when it comes to judging Manchester City's current inconsistency.

I think that this week has been pivotal for Pellegrini's future at the Etihad and I feel that his time will be up in the summer.

There is something about Manchester City's group mentality which allows for complacency and I don't see any big characters willing to drag their team mates forward by their own force of will.

AMBITION

I don't see hunger and I don't see ambition. I see a bunch of high earners but I don't see any real passion. They are Premier League champions but sometimes you would never guess.

As I mentioned at the start, the big winner on the day was Mourinho who banked another trophy at Wembley and saw his nearest rivals throw away a chance to narrow the gap at the top of the table.

Just a week ago, he was in full rant mode and I find it hard to separate his ever more ridiculous outbursts from his team these days.

Chelsea were worthy winners against Spurs but it is hard to stomach Mourinho looking so smug though I'm sure he doesn't care about anyone else other than his players, his fans and his boss Roman Abramovich. And himself, of course.

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