MAN CITY v CHELSEA – City battle to beat Premier League blues

The Champions of England’s clash with the Champions of Europe held so much intrigue and promise in the Community Shield last August. Six months on and the tag of champions is consigned to the history books and a runners-up slot in the Premier League is scant consolation.

City beat Chelsea 3-2 in a richly entertaining encounter at Villa Park and both sides looked set to battle for the PL crown. Jokingly referred to as ‘El Cashico’, two of the wealthiest clubs on the planet looked destined to occupy the top slots in the English game.

Backed by super rich owners awash with cash and bristling with ambition, the respective shades of Manchester and Chelsea blue just about swept the board last season in an orgy of silverware. Not so in 2013, with both left vying for the FA Cup as their only realistic domestic target.

Disappointment abounds for both clubs but that should not lessen the importance of winning this second versus third place match up at the Etihad.

Automatic qualification for the Champions League is paramount. Whoever edges this encounter will have momentum. A complacent City could yet be caught by Chelsea and Spurs. Anything less than second place would not go down well in Abu Dhabi.

Rumours abound about the fate of the respective managers, one fully understandable, the other positively outrageous.

Whoever thought Rafa Benitez was going to pull up trees with a team and supporters that clearly didn’t want him at Stamford Bridge, must have been deluded. But if you’re a billionaire several times over surrounded by sychophants then maybe Roman Abramovich can indulge in self delusion.

Roberto Mancini’s ‘situation’ at City is the polar opposite. Adored by an overwhelming majority of the success starved Sky Blue Army, City fans clearly want Sheikh Mansour and Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak to stick with the man who has delivered the FA Cup and Premier League title in the past two years.

If, as is becoming increasingly likely, City finish as runner-up in the PL, is it really grounds to dismiss a man who was rewarded with a five year deal last summer? Mancini may yet deliver the FA Cup to City for a second time in three years, so what kind of madness is it that sees a cancerous cacophony of venom spewed up week in and week out over his future?

The malicious Manchester United loving media keep banging on about the money invested in City since the Abu Dhabi intervention. They love to perpetuate the impression that Mancini is somehow a failure – what utter and total BOLLOCKS!

Yes, City have failed to live up to last season’s top billing but this can be traced to a chronic underperformance in the summer transfer window, fuelled by a need to fall in to line with the well intentioned, but now corrupted, UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations.

Mancini had two top targets – Robin Van Persie and Danielle De Rossi. Under the stewardship of Brian Marwood, City landed neither. You’d have to be the village idiot to think these two acquisitions would not have strengthened the reigning PL Champions in both domestic and, perhaps more significantly, European competition.

City have already made significant inroads into conforming with FFP. Great commercial strides have seen a doubling of revenue and halving of annual losses.

Director of Football Txiki Begeiristain is the man tasked with cutting the deals and giving the manager – it’d best be Roberto Mancini – the personnel he wants to take City back to the pinnacle of the PL and on the European ‘up’ escalator.

This will only happen once City have secured their Champions League status, so woe betide an unfocussed or disjointed City performance this weekend.

The easy passage to the FA Cup quarter final cannot be taken in isolation as a return to winning ways. The prospect of four games without a PL win under Mancini for the first time is unpalatable – even without skipper Vincent Kompany.

Much will depend on City’s strikers. Aguero looked sharp against Leeds and, if he can have a healthy run through to May, could yet get near the 31 goal mark of last season.

The paradox is one of Tevez and Dzeko. Tevez hasn’t scored in his last eight PL appearances, whereas Dzeko has scored six in his last seven games. Ask the majority of fans who they want alongside Aguero and you’ll get an overwhelming vote for an Argentine front pairing. Dzeko and Aguero just don’t seem to gel.

A lack of width has bedevilled City’s attacking play all season and this needs addressing in the summer. They’ve also been down on creativity, mainly due to Samir Nasri’s insipid approach. Mancini has rightly lambasted the French midfielder – he has never reproduced the form of his Arsenal days.

Can any City fan recall a game changing performance from Nasri? Ironically he scored the late winner against Chelsea en-route to the title, but he has always been but a shadow of Silva’s contribution to the cause.

Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Nastasic and Lescott should form a backline going for a 12th clean sheet, with Milner, Garcia,  Yaya and Silva operating behind Aguero and Tevez.

City need to adopt a high tempo, pressing game plan, denying Chelsea space and time. It’ll take a lung busting effort but it’s well within City’s gift to notch a fourth straight home win against their West End visitors.


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