For those who have missed how Jose Mourinho out-foxed Manuel Pellegrini, another duel will happen in 11 days time, in their FA Cup’s fifth round match. The same star-cast, the same setting and of course, even more intense drama.
With positions and prospects changing every week, the meeting between two of the top-three teams did mean a fight beyond the field. More than half of the battle in their return fixture was being fought at the touch-lines, between two individuals, between two familiar foes.
However, unlike the low-profile meetings during their La Liga tenures, this time, atmosphere was tensed and the stakes were expectedly high. Reason – both the clubs are in prime positions to win the league. Despite Mourinho`s claims that the London side is only an evolving one, more than sufficient match winners and the enormity of squad strength have so far proved the Special One`s statements as mere masking comments. But for Pellegrini, there is no such obvious tactics. He knows he was brought to win the title and more importantly, the required man-power for the season long fight.
In their first league meeting in England, Mourinho pipped Pellegrini at Stamford Bridge, thanks to an error from Joe Hart. Despite City`s superior game, a mistake from the goal-keeper, gave the Portuguese bragging rights. The October defeat in London was in continuation to their awry away form. And for the Chilean manager, it didn`t improve his record against the Portuguese maverick. During their stay in Spain, Mourinho, with Real Madrid have defeated Pellegrini`s Malaga six times in eight meetings in the course of three seasons.
But in England, Citizens under Pellegrini were unbeaten at home and scored an average of four goals in domestic matches - an impressive statistics. So, when the two managers met again at the Etihad Stadium, besides the on-field duel, it was also about personal pride and stats. For City, a win would have seen them leading the table and for the visitors, a win would have allowed them to plot further up.
With so much at stake, both the managers fielded the best available XI`s. True to their form, City started with a quartet of attacking players in Navas, Silva, Dzeko, Negredo and Toure holding the midfield. It looked as though, the absence of Nasri and team`s top-scorer Aguero, would not be felt because physically imposing players Dzeko and Negredo, would still be getting balls from all possible directions. The surprising element was the start of Demichelis, probably to counter the counter-attacks from the younger opponents. The favourites in Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Kolarov manning the defensive line.
For Chelsea, infamous for their bus parking attitude, chose to start with a congregation of midfield players, who can attack as well as fall back for defensive purposes. Behind Eto`o, Mourinho deployed Willian, and Hazard and Ramires in the flanks. The back-four of Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic was guarded by two world-class defenders – Luiz and Matic in interchangeable roles. Against this set of defenders, opposing teams have so far scored only 20 times, fewest in the league. And the credit certainly goes to the Special One for his proven tactical exponents.
Thus the clash between the most prolific attacking side and the meanest sides in the league started, bracing for a hell a clash. With the only goal of the match coming as early as in the 32nd minute of the game, the majority match saw mid-fielders from either side dictating the course. As expected, Citizens enjoyed the possession, while the visiting Blues tried to break the flow with counter-attacks with fluid and precise deliveries from the back-line.
A moment of brilliance from the Serbian defender, Ivanovic settled the issue and robbed the Citizens of their unbeaten home run. But effectively, the majority of the match was dictated from the midfield, especially by ever-prevalent Toure. But the Chelsea defense out-stood any threat posed by the Citizens. For the visitors, the Brazilian David Luiz stood tall among and contributed in every aspect of the game.
In the end, the match posed a question or two – are Chelsea under Mourinho really capable of lifting the title, or Man City are all an assembled team of ready-made players which still needs luck to beat their opponents.