Two contrasting football cultures clash in London’s west end when the champions of Europe meet the champions of England.
Whereas Chelsea’s chances of retaining their title are slim, Manchester City have high hopes – neigh – expectations, of winning consecutive Premier League crowns.
Such an outlook goes some way to explaining the actions of the respective mega-rich owners as the royal blues and sky blues front up to Champions League adversity.
Roberto De Matteo is unemployed just six months after delivering the CL ‘Holy Grail’ to oligarch owner Roman Abramovich. On the other hand, Roberto Mancini appears secure at the Etihad, despite the bitter disappointment of exiting the CL at the Group stage for the second year on the bounce.
Abramovich’s ‘hire and fire’ policy is indicative of a ruthless regime, devoid of any medium-long term strategy, but one that continues to bring success. It must, however, have the likes of Pep Guardiola seriously questioning their sanity if ever tempted to take charge at Stamford Bridge.
Mancini will doubtless come under close scrutiny if he fails to keep City at the pinnacle of the PL, but back-to-back PL success would surely make him fireproof and render him a ‘third time lucky’ shot at the Champions League.
Sheikh Mansour’s patience – as well as his pockets – runs deeper than that of Abramovich, much to the relief of an overwhelming majority of Manchester City fans.
Mancini can justifiably point to two Groups of Death in his CL campaigns thus far. That fact notwithstanding, he’d do well to acknowledge that it would surely be three strikes and out if City were to falter a third time come December 2013.
As if this fixture were not sufficiently intriguing we have the substantially added spice of Rafael Benitez’ return to the English game.
The appointment is about as popular as flatulence in a space suit with Chelsea fans. It prompted one West End hotel to rename its penthouse the ‘Rafael Benitez Suite’ not in honour of the Spaniard, simply it was ideal for short stays!
City will certainly be out to give short shrift to an opponent of whom they have had the better in recent outings, clocking up an impressive five wins in the last seven encounters.
They destroyed Chelsea in the Community Shield 3-2 but there’s a sense of déjà vu as City roll into the capital as the only undefeated team in the professional game in England.
The champions-elect were 14 games without defeat when they last visited the Bridge. 1-0 up after five minutes City had a stonewall penalty claim when David Silva was up-ended. Everyone bar referee Mark Clattenburg, knew it was a City spot kick. Mario WOULD have converted and, at 2-0 to City, there would have been no way back for Chelsea.
As it was a 10-man City – Clichy was dismissed – went down 2-1 with every reason to hold grudges against the official who loves to stitch up the blue side of Manchester.
It’s illogical and tongue in cheek, but if City made a baseless allegation against Clattenburg would it mean him not officiating City games forevermore – worth a punt, Roberto?
Back to commonsense, it’ll be a tough test for City, especially if Benitez can get a positive reaction from his new charges, in particular a certain Fernando Torres.
When it comes to goal machines, Carlos Tevez has scored six goals against Chelsea in the PL – bettered only by Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer. On that basis a hat-trick would come in handy for the history books as well as City.
Chelsea will be without John Terry and Frank Lampard, while City have concerns over skipper Vincent Kompany who faces a late fitness test. Gael Clichy should be back but it’s too soon for Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell. As for Mario – who knows?
A City win would be a massive title boost putting them seven points clear of their opponents – even a loss would keep them a point in front.
If the best defence in the PL can hang tough against Hazard, Oscar and Mata, City have the calibre, experience and mental strength to reward Abramovich’s madness with all it deserves… absolutely nothing.