Manuel Pellegrini’s philosophy of attack being the surest form of defence will be severely tested when Manchester City face Chelsea in the ‘El Cashico’ clash in West London.
Stamford Bridge is a few tube station stops removed from Whitehall, but City’s ruling MP will have concerns about his ‘Ministry of Defence’ in the continuing absence of on-the-field leader Vincent Kompany.
With 20 Premier League goals already netted and top scorer Sergio Aguero in scintillating form, City will want to keep Jose Mourinho’s counter attacking side on the back foot, well away from a vulnerable Kompany-less defensive core.
Despite scoring eight and conceding just three in a trio of consecutive wins, a City side shorn of their skipper will do well not to succumb to opponents bristling with intent in the shape of Oscar, Hazard, Mata, Eto’o and even Torres.
The unfortunate Javi Garcia seems to incur the wrath of most City fans whenever Pellegrini hands him the poisoned chalice of filling in for the absent Captain Kompany.
His shaky midweek display in Moscow should signal a defensive re-shuffle and a second start in London in just over a week for Micah Richards.
Micah’s omission from City’s 2-1 Champions League victory over CSKA raised many an eyebrow, after his impressive performance in the 3-1 win at West Ham. His natural pace and power would complement the poise and positional play of Matija Nastasic, in a balanced right foot-left foot partnership.
Pellegrini does have other options.
Lescott could replace Nastasic and retain the left-right balance with Richards. Alternatively the returning Jack Rodwell could win favour in the heart of City’s defence. Dedryk Boyata doesn’t appear a contender and Martin Demichelis is still coming back from injury.
City’s chances of recording only their second win away at Chelsea in 16 attempts could hinge on who Pellegrini chooses. It cannot be right that the absence of one man can so undermine a team, but sadly, that appears to be where City are at every time Kompany picks up an injury.
That said, City have won two away games on the bounce so a third at Chelsea and a fourth at Newcastle in the Capital One Cup would be quite sensational, especially in the absence of the ‘Belgian Boulder’.
The form book for this titanic struggle of the two PL favourites would suggest Mourinho could add to his imperious head-to-head record against Pellegrini. The self proclaimed ‘Special One, more latterly re-titled ‘Happy One’, lost only one of seven encounters in Spain.
There’s no love lost between the two men as Pellegrini takes on the despicable Mourinho – his successor at Real Madrid – after the Chilean was unceremoniously sacked, despite amassing a record La Liga points haul for the Santiago Bernabeu outfit.
The pernicious Portuguese coach – never one for keeping knives in the rack if given the opportunity to stab someone in the back – was quoted: “If ever I am sacked by Real Madrid I won’t be going to coach Malaga. I will go back to a big club in the Premier League.”
Fair enough, Jose has been true to his word, the irony being that Pellegrini’s success, in the face of adversity at Malaga, led to his appointment at City.
City have lost 10 times in the last 15 trips to Chelsea, often finding it a bridge too far, and it was a certain Wayne Bridge who was the focus of attention when City last bagged the points in February 2010.
Chelsea captain, John Terry had allegedly been playing – and scoring – away from home with Bridge’s girlfriend, when the two men were supposed to be best mates.
Any extra-curricular activity had nothing to do with on-field play as Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy bagged a brace each as City settled the account 4-2.
Last season found City in the ascendancy, winning five and drawing once in half-a-dozen encounters in five different cities against the West End boys.
Amazingly, Mourinho has yet to lose a home PL fixture, clocking up an impressive 64-game unbeaten run, comprising 50 wins and 14 draws in his two terms under Roman Abramovich.
But that’s not to say Mourinho’s Chelsea are unbeatable on home soil – only last month they put in a faulty display against Basel, losing 2-1 to the Swiss side in the Champions League.
Maybe Manuel can triumph likewise, if City put in a towering performance?
If Garcia does drop to the bench for Richards, the only other change could see Clichy replace Kolarov at left back.
Both Royal Blue and Sky Blue managers appear to broadly favour a 4-2-3-1 formation with both teams awash with top class internationals. Could it be an Oscar winning performance for Chelsea or a sumptuous Silva service for City that garners the points?
The return of Ashley Cole will be a big boost for the hosts, but can the veteran England left back cope with Jesus Navas if the Spaniard flicks on the afterburners?
Aguero and David Luiz could renew Argentine-Brazilian hostilities, whereas John Terry might be less than all gold if Alvaro Negredo – The Beast – can feast on JT’s diminishing pace.
It’s a fascinating confrontation in every area of the pitch and the astute Mourinho has singled Yaya Toure out as City’s main man.
The Ivorian colossus has been consumed in a debate on racism since CSKA supporters spouted disgusting chants on Wednesday night – (NB: no ‘allegedly’ about it) – with Yaya urging a possible boycott of the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia.
Mourinho has openly disagreed with any such suggestion, adding yet another ingredient to what is already a very spicy encounter.
A home win would take Chelsea four points clear of City, whereas a second PL away win of the season would put Pellegrini’s side two points ahead, but with a massive psychological advantage.
However, it’s far too early for either side to be cashing in any title winning chips, especially in a season shaping up to be much more than a two-horse race.
By David Walker
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