Manuel Pellegrini praised Kevin De Bruyne’s instinctive ability in front of goal after the Belgian fired Manchester City into the semi-finals of the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain.
Following last week’s thrilling 2-2 draw at the Parc des Princes, where De Bruyne also opened the scoring, the Etihad Stadium experienced a more tense affair that went to half-time goalless after City striker Sergio Aguero shot wide from the penalty spot.
The breakthrough finally arrived in the 76th minute when De Bruyne curled precisely past the outstretched PSG goalkeeper Kevin Trapp to score from the edge of the area.
It was the third time the 24-year-old has scored in as many starts since suffering knee ligament damage in January.
Pellegrini told his pre-match news conference of his relief over having De Bruyne back among his attacking talents to boost what had been a faltering campaign for City.
“I think that Kevin has an important thing for a player – we know that near the box he is a very dangerous player because he doesn’t need too much place to have good shots,” Pellegrini said.
“I always say that good players playing, all of them together, they all play better.
“Playing David [Silva] with Kun [Aguero], with Yaya [Toure], with Fernandinho – of course, the team improves immediately.”
De Bruyne became City’s record signing when he joined from Wolfsburg in August and has established himself as a firm favourite among the City faithful.
But two much-maligned big-money buys – centre-backs Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi – also shone as the hosts frustrated an attack led by PSG’s virtuoso forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“I was very happy for both of them,” Pellegrini said. “I don’t think they have had a bad season. Maybe they have made mistakes in some games.
“But I said before the game it is very important to have our best players fit 100 per cent. We played a lot of games during this season with important players injured – we have a squad that merits us being at this stage.
“I am very happy for both of them because they receive a lot of criticism. If you review the complete performance during the year, I think that they are doing well.”
City and Real Madrid will await the results of Wednesday’s remaining quarter-finals before learning their fate in Friday’s draw.
Should Bayern Munich overcome Benfica, Pellegrini could be pitted against Pep Guardiola – although facing the man who will replace him in the City dugout next season does not appear to hold any added significance for the Chilean.
“For me, it’s exactly the same. It doesn’t matter [who we draw],” he continued.
“It will always be a difficult team – Bayern Munich if they win tomorrow or Barcelona or Real Madrid. It will be exactly the same.”