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.