MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Flashing rarely sighted smiles, unruffled by the prospect of taking on Barcelona, Manuel Pellegrini personified the calm and confidence at Manchester City where chaos once reigned.
Even a declaration that City was the dominant power in Manchester didn't seem so farfetched, albeit unusually eye-catching from a manager renowned for his intentionally bland public comments.
Rather than attempting to set off a verbal skirmish with Manchester United, this was just a statement of fact on Monday by a manager with a spring in his step ahead of the biggest European game in the club's long, but not so illustrious, history. Well, not compared with United's.
That could all be changing, Pellegrini predicts. Barcelona's previous trips to Manchester for competitive games have always been to Old Trafford, failing to win on four visits.
But the Spanish champions will play a first competitive game against City on Tuesday, in the Champions League round of 16, facing a team third in the Premier League while United is fading in seventh and unlikely to qualify for European football's elite competition next season.
"If we only consider this season, there is just one club in Manchester and it's ours," Pellegrini said in Spanish. "But you cannot forget what United has done in the previous years. We are aiming to keep growing by winning many trophies — not just national but international trophies. We are fighting for four titles this year."
Just 15 years ago, though, City was in the depths of third-tier English football before embarking on an uneasy ascent back from the wilderness. After returning to the Premier League in 2002 and staying in business when it faced oblivion, the wealth of Abu Dhabi's ruling family has enabled City to become the biggest spenders in world football since 2008.
The takeover had City supporters start to dream about knocking United off its pedestal, but despite winning the Premier League in 2012, only since Alex Ferguson's retirement from United last year has the balance of power looked like seriously shifting.
"We have to be patient because you cannot change the team from one day to another," Pellegrini said. "We have to keep the philosophy of the style and for that you need time."
Under David Moyes, United seems to be fading as a force on the pitch, just as Barcelona's cloak of invincibility has slipped away since manager Pep Guardiola left in 2012. Yet while Barcelona is top of the Spanish standings, in a three-way battle for the title with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, United is not a Premier League threat — for now.
But it will take far longer for City to usurp United's commercial might or global fan base.
Victory over Barcelona would go some way to enhancing City's global credibility after the expensively assembled squad slipped out of the Champions League at the group stage in the previous two seasons when Roberto Mancini was in charge. Mancini's departure after last season ended without a trophy enabled City to bring in a more composed manager who has enjoyed a tranquil first season.
"This club is trying to develop in all areas and so far we have had a good season, but we must finish that way," Pellegrini said.
City midfielder Yaya Toure left Barcelona just before the Catalan side went on to sweep five trophies in 2011 alone. Toure has won only the Premier League and FA Cup at City, but sees a victory over Barcelona as an opportunity to show there is more to come from this team.
"Barcelona are at the top level in the world and if we want to move on and one day be one of the top clubs in the world, we have to play against those teams," Toure said.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris