Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is hopeful playmaker David Silva will be fit for Sunday’s derby against Manchester United. City began the season as joint favourites for the Premier League crown but have not impressed on the domestic front since the 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle. They laboured in a goalless draw at Stoke last week but, buoyed by an impressive display against Czech champions Plzen, Pellegrini is targeting victory against United. He said: “I don’t need to be here to know how important the derby is, but working here and living here I know it is a special game. “It is a match of six points. It is very important to win, (against) one of the most important teams. “Manchester United will always be one of the teams trying to win the Champions League, so playing at home against Manchester United is very important. “It is more important to win than not to lose. Of course if you cannot win it is better not to lose, but we will try to win from the beginning.” City put aside their recent lethargy to win 3-0 in Plzen with goals from Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. After failures in Europe in the past two seasons, it was a performance that lifted the club at a timely moment in a critical week. Pellegrini said: “For us it was very important to start the Champions League winning and to have three points playing away. “Of course that gives confidence to the players.” Pellegrini believes his side will now continue to improve as the players grow used to his style. He said: “It was a good start, not as good as we wanted, but normally it is very difficult to start in a better way. “We know we must improve every game. It is very difficult to change styles to have new ideas. “Until December it is very important to win and with winning it is easier to improve. But we have to improve a lot of things.” United are also finding their feet under a new manager after David Moyes took over from Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer. Sunday’s clash will be the first Manchester derby since 1986 not to feature Ferguson in the United dugout. Pellegrini said: “It is impossible not to be under a lot of pressure – not in replacing Alex Ferguson but managing Manchester United, or big teams. “You are always under big pressure but that is a good way to work because you know what you have to do.” Moyes boasts a good record against City with his old Everton side having beaten them in 12 out of 22 meetings during his 11-year tenure at Goodison Park, including six of the last eight. Yet Pellegrini has overcome Moyes before, beating the Toffees with Villarreal in a Champions League qualifier in 2005. The Chilean said: “I know he had good results against Manchester City when he managed Everton. “I had also had a good record against Everton when he was their manager.” United are yet to hit their stride this season but Pellegrini is not reading much into their form. He said: “It’s not my duty to analyse how they start. It is a very good team and David Moyes is a very good manager. “I think they have a lot of great players, (Wayne) Rooney of course is one of them. “But we must be not only attend to Rooney but all the big players they have.” The Spain midfielder has missed City’s last two games after suffering a thigh injury while on international duty. Defender Micah Richards could also come back into contention after missing the start of the season with hamstring trouble but the Etihad Stadium clash is likely to be too soon for left-back Gael Clichy. Pellegrini said: “Richards is working normally with the whole squad, same thing for David Silva and Clichy starts now. “Maybe he will not be ready for next Sunday but all the other players, except (Martin) Demichelis, are fit, no problems.” City will be led by Vincent Kompany after their inspirational captain made a successful return from injury in the midweek Champions League win at Viktoria Plzen. Kompany had missed the previous three Barclays Premier League games after suffering a groin injury in the season-opening win over Newcastle. The Belgian brought strength and shape back to the defence after unconvincing displays in his absence. Pellegrini said: “I think Vincent is a very important player for us. “We worked well without Kompany. If you see our numbers in games he didn’t play, we had three clean sheets, but he is always important. He gives confidence to the whole team.” Pellegrini knows facing the champions is a crucial early test for his side. Press Association
Take a tactically disciplined defence, add an eye for a timely counter attack and top off with boundless team spirit and a relentless work ethic and you have a tried and tested formula for a so-called minnow to succeed at the European championship. (Euro 2016: Iceland shock England 2-1)Whether it is Greece’s victory at Euro 2004, Denmark’s success in 1992 or Iceland’s run to the quarter-finals at Euro 2016, the similarities between successful smaller countries and their approaches seem striking.Iceland, who ended England’s tournament hopes this week, are a perfect example of how a team which lacks star players or the technical ability to hog possession can still thrive on the big stage. (Wake up France! Iceland next, says Patrice Evra)Jointly coached by experienced Swede Lars Lagerback and Icelander Heimir Hallgrimsson, they do not try to dominate the ball against opponents stocked with technically superior players.In fact, they have the lowest possession statistics of any side at Euro 2016 (35 percent), the second-lowest pass completion percentage (72%) and have attempted the fewest number of passes (907). (Full Euro 2016 Coverage)These are often seen as the metrics that define the best teams. Prior to the quarter-finals, world champions Germany, for example, topped Euro 2016’s possession table (64 percent) and had attempted the most passes (2568).So what are Iceland, and a host of successful minnows who have gone before, doing instead? Part of the answer is they are rigidly disciplined in their defensive duties and meticulous in their preparation.Iceland defender Haukur Hauksson said that coach Lagerback becomes almost monomaniacal in the build-up to a game, drumming tactical instructions into his players.advertisement”It’s almost like he’s brainwashing us with his tactics,” Hauksson said prior to the England clash.TACTICAL DISCIPLINEGerman Otto Rehhagel, who led Greece to their triumph against the odds, had a similar dedication to tactical discipline.Greece went into the tournament as rank outsiders with a completely unsung squad, but they played to their strengths — a solid defensive unit, guarded by the prowling presence of combative midfielder Theodoros Zagorakis, and a willingness to work hard all over the pitch.Rehhagel set out to frustrate opponents until they made a mistake and Greece won all of their knockout matches 1-0, including an upset of hosts Portugal in the final.They, like Iceland now, were committed to playing on the counter attack and making the most of limited opportunities.Greece had 21 shots on target, around half the amount of all the other three sides to reach the 2004 semi-finals.Similarly Iceland have had the fewest attempts on goal of any of the teams left in Euro 2016 with 29. They have still, however, scored six times. Belgium, by contrast, have had 84 attempts to score eight.Tactical and defensive discipline, however, seems to be only part of the story behind a successful minnow.They also seem to share an almost fanatical team spirit and a Stakhanovite work ethic.Perhaps counter intuitively, Albania boss Gianni de Biasi, whose side were knocked out in the group stage, suggested having a smaller pool of players might be an advantage.”Its more difficult when you dont have so much time together to try to develop as a team and individuals, but perhaps, for the smaller countries, it is easier to create that spirit,” he said.His point is seemingly that a lack of playing resources can make the squad and even the team almost self-selecting, creating a tighter, more cohesive group.TEAM SPIRITThere are parallels with how Leicester City shocked everyone to win the English Premier League, shunning possession in favour of direct, counter attacking football and starting fewer players than any of their title rivals.Iceland have used the same starting 11 in all four of their matches. Compare that to their last-16 victims England, who started a different team in three of their four games.While it remains an almost unquantifiable quality, an elevated team spirit was certainly present in Denmark’s victory at Euro 92.The Danes had failed to qualify for the competition but were invited to replace Yugoslavia at the last minute due to the conflict that was tearing that country apart.Their only real star player Michael Laudrup had decided against taking part, but they stunned everybody by reaching the final where they beat then world champions Germany 2-0.They had a solid core of players, who had been or were at Brondby, the first Danish club to turn fully professional and described by former keeper Peter Schmeichel as pioneers in the Danish game.Like Greece 12 years later, Denmark were able to play with the freedom that came from being nobody’s favourites. This pressure-free environment is also helping Iceland.advertisement”We want to win but we don’t absolutely need to. That is a big benefit for us,” Iceland co-coach Hallgrimsson said after downing England.The pressure will certainly be off when Iceland, a country of 330,000 people, face France in the quarter-finals on Sunday.Should they pull off another upset, it would seemingly be due to a blueprint that has served them and so many other smaller countries well.