Iheanacho’s strike takes City to Europe
Manuel Pellegrini’s reign as Manchester City manager ended with a 1-1 draw at Swansea on Sunday that was enough to effectively ensure his successor Pep Guardiola will be able to lead the club into the Champions League next season.
Pellegrini, whose three-year spell at Eastlands has seen the club win the Premier League title once and two League Cups, saw City live dangerously at times before he was able to sign off with the point needed to almost certainly beat Manchester United to the Premier League’s fourth Champions League qualifying spot.
Teenage striker Kelechi Iheanacho got City off to a flying start with an early goal at the Liberty Stadium but Andre Ayew’s equaliser just before half-time ensured a nervy last stand for Pellegrini in the club’s final game of the season.
Although United still have a game to play following the abandonment of their fixture against Bournemouth, due to the discovery of a suspect package at Old Trafford, City are three points above them with a vasty superior goal difference that makes it extremely unlikely their rivals will overhaul them.
Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin had done United counterpart Louis van Gaal no favours at all by resting his three best players.
Lukasz Fabianski, Ashley Williams and Gylfi Sigurdsson were all given a day off with Euro 2016 in mind, but Swansea grew in confidence against below-par opponents.
In his final game before stepping aside for Guardiola, Pellegrini named Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri among his substitutes but they were hardly conspicuous in their absence early on.
While United players were kicking their heels in frustration at Old Trafford, City wasted little time in trying to extinguish their neighbours’ slender hopes of playing in Europe’s elite club competition next season.
– In Command –
Iheanacho quickly took advantage of Guidolin’s decision to field a weakened team by putting the visitors in command with a close-range goal after five minutes.
The 19-year-old Nigeria striker, who scored 14 goals in his breakthrough season, tapped the ball past Kristoffer Nordfeldt after the Swedish goalkeeper had distinguished himself with a smart save to deny Sergio Aguero.
Confusion followed as referee Mike Dean had seemingly over-ruled the goal for offside but this gave home supporters false hope as he was merely pointing to the centre spot.
Much to the locals’ frustration, the opposite applied after Jefferson Montero diverted the ball past City goalkeeper Joe Hart, only for his celebrations to be cut short due to his foul on Bacary Sagna.
City then dominated proceedings but Aguero was thwarted by Nordfeldt before wild efforts by Iheanacho and Jesus Navas.
Their wastefulness, which drew forlorn stares from Aguero, was punished in first-half stoppage time when Ayew restored parity in the most fortuitous of circumstances.
City defender Nicolas Otamendi was asking for trouble when he felled Swansea skipper Leon Britton with an ill-judged lunging challenge that earned a caution.
There was further punishment moments later as Ayew set his sights on goal with a 25-yard free-kick and found Lady Luck was smiling on him as Fernando’s head diverted the set-piece past the wrong-footed Hart.
Despite the set-back, City were back on the front foot immediately after the break and Eliaquim Mangala almost put the visitors back in control when he rose to meet Kevin De Bruyne’s cross but his header grazed the crossbar.
Iheanacho and Aguero spurned further opportunities as City went for the kill but Federico Fernandez served notice of their opponents’ ongoing threat when he headed Stephen Kingsley’s corner just wide.
That was as close as Swansea got to ensuring Pellegrini’s tenure at City ended on an agonising low, but their lacklustre display underlined the size of the task facing Guardiola when he heads to Manchester from Bayern Munich.
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