For the second time in 12 days, Chelsea will travel to Manchester and the Etihad to face Manchester City, but this time, it’s in the FA Cup. 12 days ago, Chelsea came away with a 1-0 victory, procuring the league double over the highest scoring team in the league and moving into second place.
There’s really not anything new to say in the build-up to this match that hasn’t been said 12 days ago, but it is worth noting that for 3 out of the 4 halves that City and Chelsea have played in the league, the Blues have gotten the upper hand on the Citizens. The first meeting at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had the better of the first half, culminating in a goal from Andre Schurrle. City had the better of the second half, but were undone by a complete howler by Joe Hart. The second meeting was master class in tactical nous as every City threat was neutralized and the defence opened up on the counter to the point that Chelsea were running at them 4 on 1 at one point.
This match, I think will be slightly different if for no other reason than Barcelona come rolling into the Etihad on Tuesday night in a Champions League match that City can’t afford to lose if they have designs on advancing to the next round.
Which trophy does Manuel Pellegrini value more?
I know that Pellegrini has said that City are in for the quadruple, but the fact that he played Martin Demichelis as a holding midfielder 12 days ago shows that he may not have the faith in his squad depth to suggest a quadruple is realistic. With that said, in the span of 4 days, he faces Chelsea in one knockout competition and Barcelona in another, and he might have to prioritize if he wants to win either.
As it stands, without Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, he’s missing 2 of the 4 vital cogs in the City machine. Should City lose either Vincent Kompany or Yaya Toure going into Tuesday’s match, it makes things incredibly difficult, given that I think if they concede 2 or more goals, they’re as good as out of the Champions League (I can’t seem them scoring more than 2 at the Nou Camp).
If he should happen to rest players against Chelsea, it’s going to mean that his side will be a bit weaker than the first meeting. If he rests either Toure or Vincent Kompany, it means that he will field either a weakened midfield or a weakened defence. Considering that part of his problem was that Demichelis was horribly exposed, I’d like to think that it would lead to a rather open game, one that might be a bit more exciting but not as one-sided as the last meeting.
Has the Engineer fixed his side’s imbalance?
The biggest issue that Pellegrini had in the last meeting was playing a 4-4-2 with two strikers, one attacking midfielder, one winger, and two midfielders, one of whom is really a center back. That led to a side that basically committed seven men in attack with just three to defend against the counterattacks of Ramires’ lung-bursting runs and the trickery and cleverness of Eden Hazard and Willian. In addition, with David Silva deployed on the left, he would keep drifting to the center, his preferred space, leaving all kinds of space for Branislav Ivanovic to gallop into, hence the opening for the goal.
The fact is that if Pellegrini plays a similar tactic, he’s beginning to approach Wenger levels of insanity whereby he tries the same thing over and over again and expects different results. While some say that the 2-man midfield wasn’t the problem, it was, especially since David Luiz and Nemanja Matic essentially snuffed out any attacking threat from Yaya Toure and the attacking midfield players took him out of the defensive side with their pace.
Complicating matters even further is that if he plays that system, it could get worse, given that with the injuries to John Terry and Gary Cahill, Ivanovic will move to the center with David Luiz, meaning the more adventurous Cesar Azpilicueta will move to his natural right-sided position. If Ivanovic found success behind Silva, surely Azpilicueta would, too.
The return of Samir Nasri and Javi Garcia fixes some of the problems.
With the declaration that Nasri and Garcia are fit to play, I would assume that both will play some sort of part in proceedings. Nasri’s fitness would allow Silva to move into a central position behind the striker in lieu of Aguero, which would solve some of their overall problems from the last meeting, while adding a second playmaker to their ranks. Garcia’s return should mean that Demichelis will move back to center back in some capacity and partner Toure or possibly James Milner, given that Pellegrini seems to have no faith in Jack Rodwell.
Both returnees offer the option to return some sort of balance to the side, giving City a much more solid shape, but it doesn’t entirely fix everything. While Nasri is certainly an upgrade on the left to having Silva there and two similar strikers up front, Garcia’s not been entirely convincing at times since his arrival. He’s not as prone to error as Demichelis, but he’s not particularly fleet of foot and given Toure’s adventures forward, there is a chance he could still be isolated.
Also, playing those two players from the start means that City will basically be starting their most-solid attacking four, and it could lead back to the first point about Pellegrini’s ambitions for trophies this season.
The Special One says every match is different.
And I tend, for one, to believe him. I think the approach in this match will be a bit different because I don’t believe for a second that Mourinho will play an entirely changed side in rotation given these factors: Chelsea don’t play again until next Saturday against Everton, and he knows that City have Barcelona coming up and have to make sure they haven’t lost the tie after the first leg.
My personal belief is that you will see some changes, but I think you’ll see a side that’s a bit closer to the one that played against City in the first match. Against West Brom, Mourinho commented on the lack of personality in the side, and I think that was evident in the lack of organization and someone taking charge. I have to believe that Terry would have helped the organization, but there was also a need of calm in those final 30 minutes. For that reason, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frank Lampard returned to the side to add that little bit of personality. I also think that Oscar and Fernando Torres play because of City giving space to attack, especially if they elect to play a 4-4-2 again.
Mourinho has mentioned that Samuel Eto’o is better in tight spaces and Torres is better in open spaces. Well, City give you open spaces to play in on the counter and playing more direct, and Torres gave City all sorts of problems in their first meeting.
I don’t expect this to be as defensive and counterattacking, but I do expect the Blues to try and stay solid, try to play a bit more, but still look for counterattacks.