5 Reasons Why Manuel Pellegrini's Champions League Math Gaffe Is Meaningless

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIDecember 14, 2013

5 Reasons Why Manuel Pellegrini's Champions League Math Gaffe Is Meaningless

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    Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has borne significant criticism in the aftermath of City's 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich in their Champions League Group D finale.

    Pellegrini said he was sorry for the mistake to Graham Chase of the Telegraph, explaining that he forgot that his side needed to win by a certain margin to claim top spot.

    "Before the match I knew we had to win 3-0 because we needed one goal more than they scored here.

    "When they scored the first goal, I continued [thinking] that 3-1 was not enough because they had a better goal difference, so I continued [thinking] that we had to win by three goals, 3-0 or 4-1.

    "After they scored the second goal, I didn't continue thinking about what happened if we scored four goals."

    City took the 3-2 lead in the 63rd minute, but never found the needed fourth goal to steal Group D from homestanding Bayern in shocking fashion.

    Former Manchester City midfielder Dietmar Hamann issued a harsh assessment of Pellegrini's management of that last half-hour.

    Per an ESPNFC.com report: "Unaware that a 4-2 win would have sufficed, Pellegrini left top scorer Sergio Aguero on the bench, and Hamann said it was 'ridiculous' and 'scandalous' that the City boss and his coaching staff did not know the scoreline they needed."

    With the knockout stage draw coming Monday, now is the time for City and their fans to let this trifling episode go.

    Here are five reasons why Pellegrini's miscount is irrelevant in the big picture.

Manchester City Only Sort of Tried to Win the Match in the First Place

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    Manchester City intentionally took the pitch against Bayern Munich in the Group D Champions League wrap-up match with a depleted side.

    The Citizens were down 3-1 (two away goals, no less) to Bayern head-to-head. Even City's best XI could not be confidently projected to turn that difference around against the reigning Champions League winners.

    So Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo did not start. Yaya Toure was suspended and Samir Nasri was not even on the team sheet.

    Meanwhile, lesser lights like Javi Garcia, James Milner and Aleksandar Kolarov all played big roles.

    City fans understood Pellegrini's reasoning behind resting so many of his starters with a crucial Premier League match against Arsenal soon to follow the Bayern encounter.

    It is a touch hypocritical, then, to turn around when City snatch a 3-2 lead against the run of play—Bayern had 60 percent of the possession and 14 corner kicks to City's none—and bray that City should have scored four or more.

Pellegrini Actually Made an Aggressive Substitution, and It Almost Paid off

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    Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini was criticized for not putting Sergio Aguero on in pursuit of a fourth goal against Bayern Munich that would have won Group D for City.

    Pellegrini made a substitution in the 88th minute, but it was midfielder Jack Rodwell coming on for Edin Dzeko. Second-guessers wanted Aguero to come on for Dzeko, maybe even sooner than the 88th minute.

    Lost in the analysis, though, was the move Pellegrini made in the 73rd minute.

    Pellegrini pulled David Silva—in his first match back from injury—for white-hot striker Alvaro Negredo.

    And only a Manuel Neuer save of a Negredo strike in the 80th minute kept City from taking that all-important 4-2 lead.

    Any pundit making the argument that Pellegrini completely bottled this endgame, then, is overlooking at least one key fact.

This Was Not Manchester City 3-2 Queens Park Rangers by Any Measure

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    Manuel Pellegrini is being ridiculed for not playing the last half-hour of Bayern Munich 2-3 Manchester City the way Roberto Mancini played the last 10 minutes of Manchester City 3-2 Queens Park Rangers on May 13, 2012.

    You may recall that on that fateful day when City won the Premier League title for the first time in 44 years, City were down by a goal (needing two) in second-half stoppage time.

    Mancini managed the last 10 minutes of that match with crazed desperation. By the end of that match, Mancini had three of his four strikers (Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero) on the pitch trying wildly to save City's season.

    It worked, too. Dzeko scored in the second minute of stoppage time, and Balotelli assisted on Aguero's game-winner.

    So City fans might have been looking for Pellegrini to do something similar against Bayern when one goal would win Group D.

    That is understandable, but ultimately wrong-headed. The situations are not at all the same.

    For one thing, this match against Bayern was for tournament seeding, not for a trophy.

    For another, Bayern at home is not 10-man QPR away.

    Had Pellegrini gone for broke and seen the match drawn or even lost, he would have been asked why he did not value a historic road win over a great team like Bayern.

A Lot of the Criticism Aimed at Pellegrini Assumes That Aguero Would Have Scored

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    Like Alvaro Negredo, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is in amazing form as of late.

    Aguero has scored four goals in City's last four Premier League matches. Of those four Premier League foes, only Swansea City kept Aguero off the scoresheet. But that was largely because they refused to mark Samir Nasri all day.

    The cries for Aguero to come on at the end of Bayern Munich 2-3 Manchester City are thus tied to how prolific Aguero has been in recent days. Who else would you rather put out there to get you one goal?

    Somewhere along the line, though, the narrative shifted from how Pellegrini should have put Aguero on to give his side a chance to win to how Pellegrini lost the group for City by not putting Aguero on.

    "Imagine what they could have done if Manuel Pellegrini had...got his calculations right," sighed Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail. "Pellegrini might regret not chasing the fourth goal that would have put his team through as winners of Group D."

    The emphasis needs to remain on the word "could" at all times when examining this hypothesis.

    Aguero could have come on in the 63rd minute after James Milner gave City the lead and scored a hat trick in half an hour.

    Or Aguero might have scored one goal. Or two. Or none. Or maybe he would have sustained an injury and been ruled out for City's next match (home against Premier League leader Arsenal).

    Nobody knows what would have happened if Aguero had played.

    So everyone should stop pretending that they do.

Neither Pellegrini nor City Seem Bothered by the Math Error—nor Should They Be

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    Because Manchester City did not win Champions League Group D, and because they cannot be drawn against Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, City have only five possible opponents in the Champions League round of 16.

    As reported by Toby Keel of Yahoo! Sport, City will face one of these sides: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain and Atletico Madrid.

    That is a murderer's row.

    And so what?

    Were City going to steamroll through the draw without playing any of these top-tier international sides on their way to a Champions League crown? Almost certainly not.

    Eventually, a side with real Champions League aspirations has to be ready to face the best and beat them. Where those matchups fall in the bracket should not matter.

    Pellegrini seems to know this.

    "I am not afraid of who we are going to play in the round of 16. I don't believe some teams are weaker than the other teams," Pellegrini told Agence France-Presse (via Yahoo! Sport).

    "I believe the 16 best teams in Europe are all exactly the same for us."

    Ruminating about and regretting not winning Group D to soften the early part of the tournament is needless and silly. City could just as easily lose to, say, Olympiacos or AC Milan as they could to Barcelona or Real Madrid.

    And if City want to win the trophy, they need to take on and beat all comers.