at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Manchester – Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini believes his side have the mental strength to win matches even when they are not at their stylish best during the end-of-season run-in.
City have plundered 69 goals in 26 league matches this season but, after failing to find the net in successive games, they scrapped to a 1-0 victory at home to Stoke City on Saturday.
It was enough to keep them three points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand and a superior goal difference.
Goals were not an issue for Pellegrini in the first half of the campaign, but the Chilean is confident his side can cope against teams who look to shut them out.
“The satisfaction is the same because we have three points more on the table and the second round is not the same as the first round,” he said.
“Teams come here to try to draw with the whole team defending, so we can't win by three or four every match. We must try to find more space in the defence, but it's important to know how to win both ways, to have a clean sheet and have the patience to score at least one.
“The other team was behind the ball in the other box, but we had the patience for the 90 minutes and finally we scored and we had the concentration, especially at set-pieces and second balls, to keep our clean sheet.”
Yaya Toure prodded in the only goal against Mark Hughes's side with 20 minutes remaining.
Ahead of next Sunday's League Cup final against Sunderland, Argentina forward Sergio Aguero is set to return to training after a hamstring injury on Tuesday, but Pellegrini has issues with each of his other forwards.
Alvaro Negredo is still working his way back to fitness after a shoulder problem, Edin Dzeko put in a poor performance against Stoke, including one awful miss from three yards, and Stevan Jovetic was forced off by a hamstring injury just 12 minutes after coming on.
Jovetic is the only City striker to have found the net in February, but Pellegrini says he retains confidence in his strike-force.
“It's normal during the season,” he said. “Sometimes the strikers may (have bad runs), but I trust in all of them and I'm sure they will recover their normal performance.
“Every player can have a bad day and maybe (Dzeko) had a bad day and was nervous after he failed that goal, but I trust him.
“Negredo is coming from an injury. Jovetic felt cramp in his hamstring, so we'll see what the doctor says. Sergio will start working with the whole squad on Tuesday and we'll see in the week if he's ready for the match on Sunday.”
Pellegrini has been charged with misconduct by European governing body UEFA after criticising Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson following the 2-0 Champions League defeat by Barcelona in midweek.
His case will be heard at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday, but Pellegrini will not interrupt City's build-up to the Sunderland match to attend.
“No, I'm not worried about that,” he said. “I'm still working here.”
Stoke remain just three points above the relegation zone and host second-place Arsenal next weekend, but manager Hughes was happy with the way his team performed against City.
“I was pleased with what we produced,” said the former City manager. “We had a game plan and executed it for the majority of the game. We switched off and made a couple of errors for the goal, unfortunately.
“At half-time we were very pleased with what we produced, with full knowledge that there would be a reaction in the second half.” Sapa-AFP