Manuel Pellegrini turned 60 on Monday, a grand age to experience a first Manchester derby, as he will do at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Manchester City's new manager is called El Ingeniero in Spain for an ability to construct teams, and as the nascent season unfolds there are signs the Pellegrini project is taking shape, with the 3-0 win over Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday, which featured a second-half goal burst from Edin Dzeko, Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero, providing a fillip before the Chilean's first big test.

The result sent City home with victory from a Champions League opening group game for a first time in three attempts. Now Pellegrini and his team return to the Premier League, where form has stuttered since a 4-0 opening-day demolition of Newcastle United at the Etihad. That fluid display was followed by a defensive horror show as they lost 3-2 at Cardiff City, a sluggish and unconvincing 2-0 victory against Hull City and last week's laboured 0-0 draw at Stoke City.

Yet Pellegrini is calm, understanding the patience required to realise his blueprint while integrating a core of new players; Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho, Jesús Navas and Martín Demichelis, who arrived at a combined cost of £92.5m, into a squad that also lost key members in Gareth Barry and Carlos Tevez in the summer.

Sheikh Mansour, the City owner, hired Pellegrini to replace the volatile Roberto Mancini because the ability to piece a side together expertly as he did at Villarreal, from 2004-09, and Málaga, from 2010-13, came with a temperament that makes him a managerial cool hand Luke. This has so far eliminated the media storms that swirled around Mancini, with Pellegrini proving a calm deflector of incisive media questioning, as he again did on Friday when asked about United's new manager. "I will not analyse David Moyes here," he said, ending the conversation.

Pellegrini's Villarreal knocked Moyes's Everton out of the Champions League in September 2005, 4-2 on aggregate, and he chalked up a further win over United's new manager in Málaga's friendly win over the Merseyside club last summer. Of the first encounter Pellegrini says: "It was a very special game because [for] both teams it was the first time [they] play Champions League. It was a very difficult game at Goodison and we finished beating Everton at home."

While Villarreal won 2-1 home and away against Everton, Pellegrini plays down Málaga's victory over Everton in last summer's Costa del Sol trophy. "We won 1-0. It was a friendly match in pre-season and it did not have an important conclusion. But it is always important to win."

Although it is anathema to Pellegrini to crow publicly, he is sure to look to boost his players' faith in him before the derby by reminding them of the four 0-0 draws his Villarreal teams held United to, during the group stage of that 2005-06 Champions League campaign and the 2008-09 competition.

"I remember they were very difficult games," he says. "It was not easy for Villarreal to play against Manchester United when they had Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, [Wayne] Rooney. They had a very strong attack, a very good team. The four draws we had against them were very important games, not only because we drew but because those groups finished with Villarreal at the top. That was very important."

Does that give him confidence? "The past and the history will not play the next game," he says. "Every game is different but I hope we are going to do a very good match against Manchester United."

Pellegrini took the unheralded Villarreal to the 2006 Champions League semi-final, where Arsenal defeated them 1-0 on aggregate, and Málaga to last season's quarter-final where two stoppage-time Borussia Dortmund goals, one of which was offside, knocked them out.

Pellegrini may have won nothing in Europe but he can point to championships in his native Chile, Ecuador and the hotbed of Argentinian football. So can he now apply his winning methods to City?

"I hope," he replies. "It is the fifth country I have worked in. I worked in Chile and we won the domestic league title, the same happened in Ecuador and also in Argentina. In Spain we managed to have some great campaigns with my teams in my nine years there. So I hope with the experience gained in Europe and with all the experience in the Champions League, with the team that we have at our disposal, we can have a great season."

Pellegrini's thoughtful nature can be found in the ethos of his teams. "I don't have a favourite tactical system," he says, with City's shape so far morphing from the nominal 4-3-3 to 4-2-2-2, 4-2-4 and 4-4-2. "There are certain favourite concepts of football, which are: to have ball possession, trying to get to the opposing penalty area as often as possible; and not to be a team that scores and then retreats and resorts to counter attacks. But I think that more important than such a fixed tactical system, since all of them have led to victories or defeats, is that the concept of your football is in line with the team, with the ball and with the occasion."

Players are as vital as tactics. "One goes with the other. If it was only about tactics, then any team with any group of players could win, and this doesn't happen," he says. "It is important to have players with a high level of technical qualities if you want to win titles. But added to this high level of technical qualities you need to put together a tactical system, so everything functions well within the team on the pitch. You need to defend and attack as a team and not defend or attack with individual players."

Pushed if Moyes's own tactical acumen might concern Pellegrini, he replies: "Every week, whichever team we play, I am concerned. We have 38 games to play and two of them are Manchester United. It is very important to win against United but the most important thing is to win the title, so the concern is every week the same."

His reluctance to say anything inflammatory is again evident when considering any parallels between him and the Scot: "Maybe it is not exactly similar. David Moyes has a long career here as a manager in England and now he is at an important club. For me it is different. I have a career in different countries with big teams and it is my first time here in England. Both of us are managing important teams."

With no major honours on his European CV and having been dismissed after a single season at Real Madrid despite winning a record 96 points when finishing second to Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, Pellegrini can relate to why Moyes was chosen to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson.

"It is no surprise because he has a very good career," Pellegrini says. "Maybe he didn't win a title because it is very difficult to win a title if you are not at four or five teams. But he has all the merits to be the manager of Manchester United, so it is not a surprise for me."