Two distinct and very different faces of the Premier League come together at the Etihad in a proverbial six pointer when Chelsea confront Manchester City. Sorry, make that three faces – Jose Mourinho will bring two with him – as he matches up to the impeccable Manuel Pellegrini.
Has there ever been a more pronounced difference in approach, attitude and behaviour of true contenders for English football’s top domestic honour?
Mourinho’s CV is as impressive as they come boasting – no – bragging, titles in four different countries, two Champions League crowns successes and a plethora of cups that, when polished, would empty many a Mr Sheen canister.
By comparison Pellegrini’s achievements are viewed in a much more modest manner, albeit the anti-City factions in the media have directed the floodlights on his apparent ‘failure’ to win a title in his time in European – more correctly Spanish – football.
Thus far the genteel Pellegrini has won titles in two countries with (Quito in Ecuador & in Argentina with San Lorenzo and River Plate) cups in his native Chile and the less auspicious Intertoto Cup with Villarreal in 2004.
The fact he took unfashionable Villarreal to both the semi finals and quarter finals of the Champions League, breaking Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold on La Liga’s first and second places, was a huge achievement.
Imagine Norwich breaking in between City and United, or more realistically in the modern day City and Chelsea or City and Arsenal. It simply wasn’t done, but Manuel did it.
Only last season he took his unfancied Malaga side to within 120 seconds of the CL semi-final before they were cheated by two outrageous refereeing decisions in Dortmund.
The only realistic opportunity afforded Pellegrini to win a title in his nine years in Spain was in 2010 when he took the reins at the Santiago Bernabeu.
His Real Madrid team ran up a club record 96 points only to be shaded by Pep Guardiola’s finest ever Barcelona side by three points. With typical Madrid madness, Manuel was sacked and replaced by the ‘Sour One’ – the snide, sneering, snake – who will sit in the visitor’s ‘dug-out’ on Monday night.
The contrasts between the managerial combatants are manifold. Jose is reptilian, fuelled by confrontation, spewing bile and venom, a classless hypocrite, a very successful coach, albeit a nasty piece of work, with undeniable tactical acumen and motivational powers.
Pellegrini is the personification of understatement, unassuming, keeping his own counsel, diplomatic, courteous and kindly. All laudable traits but they only serve to mask a passion and unsurpassed desire to win. His intensity and professional dedication is illustrated by the time he spends apart from his nearest and dearest who remain in South America.
His quadruple chasing Manchester City side, the talk of ‘Planet Football’ with 115 goals scored thus far, are Pellegrini’s ticket to sticking a metaphorical finger in the eye of his detractors.
The putrid Portuguese is better known for literally sticking a thumb in the eye of his opponents – just ask Tito Vilanova, now battling cancer, but at the time of malevolent Mourinho’s assault, the assistant manager to Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona – who had the measure of Jose’s malignant Madrid.
It speaks volumes that City’s executive hierarchy of CEO Ferran Soriano and Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain ruled Mourinho out of the running for the Barcelona job before choosing Guardiola. Similarly, Mourinho was never a contender for the City job when Roberto Mancini departed last May.
Why? The answer is simple. City, like Barcelona, want to be the best in club football but want to achieve that objective with attractive, mesmerising play on the pitch, aligned to grace and style off it.
The 60-year old from Santiago ticks all the boxes. Cultured, skilled and sage-like, the engineering graduate has finally been given adequate tools to create a ‘machine’ of nigh on perfection, mechanisms in synch, smooth-flowing natural momentum, efficient, effective…a thing of beauty.
He’s only seven months into a projected 36 month tenure, so it’s still comparatively early days, but that should only serve to scare the living daylights out of Manchester City’s rivals both at home and abroad.
Early teething troubles have been ironed out – hopefully repeats of the malfunctions so evident at Cardiff, Villa and Sunderland – are banished under the manifest of ‘Lessons Learned.’
The defeat at Chelsea falls under a different heading of good team performance, sound tactics and personal blunders not to be repeated.
Mourinho’s most recent utterances on Financial Fair Play compliance are yet another example of the insidious way he sets out his stall. Interpreted another way, it reveal’s Chelsea’s fears in relation to City’s potential domestic domination and growing European influence.
City’s recent ascendancy to the top of the PL would be consolidated by a 12th straight PL home win, a victory that would open up a significant six point gap on Chelsea and give Jose that certain ‘sinking feeling’.
In interviews he always ‘sinks’ this and ‘sinks’ that, so it can only be hoped that City can depth charge Chelsea into oblivion.
The loss of Aguero, whilst significant, is not insurmountable. With 26 goals to his name in just 25 appearances this season, Sergio is in the form of his life, re-affirming his status as truly world class, but the timely emergence of Stevan Jovetic could be a PL lifesaver.
The Montenegrin showed real quality in the 5-1 demolition of Spurs and with Negredo set to return and Dzeko continuing his steady stream of scoring, City shouldn’t want for goals.
Silva is in sublime form and Navas has brought a new dimension in providing width and speed to City attacking prowess.
Chelsea’s strength lies in midfield with their much vaunted trio of Hazard, Oscar and Willian but an assertive Yaya Toure and indefatigable Fernandinho will prove more than worthy adversaries.
Schurrle and Eto’o will need some policing by Zabaleta, Kompany & Co and City would do well not to concede the opening goal, just in case the ‘principled’ Mourinho decides to emulate Big Sam’s West Ham and indulge in a spot of 19th century charabanc parking.
Aguero and Samir Nasri’s absence should not be under estimated but on the plus side, there was one very noticeable absentee when Chelsea stole their 2-1 win last October – a certain City Field Marshall who commands the backline and inspires like no other.
Vincent Kompany is Manchester City’s influential player like no other – as Chelsea will find to their cost.
It promises to be an intriguing collision of football philosophies and one that could be pivotal as to who wins the PL this season. It’s a stark contrast in personalities and outlook, Pellegrini the paragon of virtue versus the serpent of Setubal, the virus that is Mourinho.
Let it be a night where the football does the talking and miracles really do happen and Mourinho is gracious in defeat…
By David Walker