Manuel Pellegrini has warned his Manchester City players to ignore the controversy over Jose Mourinho’s threat to field a weakened team against leaders Liverpool and focus on beating Crystal Palace.
Pellegrini knows City’s challenge for the Premier League title will suffer a major setback if Chelsea manager Mourinho follows through on his plan to play his reserves in Sunday’s crucial clash at Anfield.
Liverpool are six points clear of third placed City, but Pellegrini’s men have a game in hand and a defeat for the Reds against Chelsea, coupled with a victory for City at Palace later on Sunday would put them firmly back in the title hunt.
However, with second placed Chelsea five points behind Liverpool and beset by injuries and suspensions, Mourinho has prioritised the Champions League following his team’s 0-0 draw at Atletico Madrid in the semi-final first leg.
The decisive second leg looms on Wednesday and Mourinho has no intention of risking further injuries against Liverpool, leaving City to hope Chelsea’s understudies can somehow snatch a positive result on Merseyside just hours before they kick-off at Selhurst Park.
Pellegrini and Mourinho have sniped at each other consistently over the years, yet this time the City boss refused to become involved in a war of words with his old rival.
Instead, he pointed out the Liverpool result will be irrelevant if City, who got back to winning ways against West Bromwich Albion on Monday, slip up against a Palace team in superb form of late.
“I don’t know what Chelsea or other teams are going to do in the future. The only important thing we can try to do is win our games, and we are going to try from now until the end of the season,” Pellegrini said.
“I think every team tries to make the best thing for their team. If the other teams are damaged for that reason it is not the important thing for us.
“Liverpool have to win their last three games. If they win the three games of course they are top of the table and they have the advantage.
“From the moment we lost the game against Liverpool they have the first chances to win it but for that they must win their games.
“All of our players believe they can still do it. Everyone that is working in football knows anything can happen, and easily in the last few games when the pressure is a lot.”
City’s cause won’t be helped by the absence of Spanish playmakers David Silva and Jesus Navas, who are both sidelined with ankle problems, but Ivory Coast international Yaya Toure should return from injury to bolster the midfield.
Palace will be no pushover after rising to 11th in the table on the back of five consecutive victories.
Tony Pulis’s side have already put a major dent in Chelsea’s title bid with a 1-0 win in south London recently and Pellegrini is suitably impressed.
“Palace will be very difficult because they are a good team, they are playing very well. At home we had a very difficult game and just beat them 1-0,” he added.
“Tony Pulis is doing a very good job, they are one of the best teams of the second half of the season. I congratulate him.”
Pulis is a manager of the year candidate, but the Palace boss knows continued development of his squad and the club’s infrastructure is essential if the Eagles are to trouble the big guns again next season.
“There’s so much to do at the football club from the training facilities, to the ground, to the organisation. Everything has got to change. It’s got to step up a level,” Pulis said.
“This club has got to stay in the Premier League for three or four years. If it can do that, you can bed the club down and establish it in the Premier League and then you can really push on.”