MANCHESTER City v Chelsea tonight…it’s “match of the season” time again! I am relishing the prospect of watching runaway leading scorers City attempt to shoot down their title rivals at The Etihad, scene of so many goal gluts this season. However, not even the most optimistic of City fans will expect a scoring spree against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. I don’t, for the simple reason that Mourinho will brazenly eat a slice of humble pie by setting up his team not to lose, rather than to win. Put it this way…if he doesn’t, I’ll readily eat the pie!
As I said in this column the other day, it’s hard to suppress a cynical smile when you hear Mourinho moaning about the opposition’s negative tactics, as he did when bemoaning Chelsea’s failure to score against West Ham. After all, this is the manager who achieved a 0-0 at Manchester United early in the season, when he did not select a single striker! This is the manager who, when 3-0 up against United at Stamford Bridge in the return meeting, brought on a third defensive midfielder. And I reckon this is the manager who, tomorrow, will almost certainly play two, possibly even three, holding midfielders and maybe three centre-backs in a bid to stifle super City’s attacking intentions.
I don’t underestimate Chelsea, or Mourinho, but the fact is that his teams are built on functionality as opposed to flair. And he does not have a single striker to compare with City’s battery of sharp-shooters, Samuel Eto’o looking the best bet, even though he is past his once-brilliant best. I think Mourinho will pack his midfield and have his men swarm all over City, like they did against Stoke in the FA Cup, in an attempt to smother the creativity of players like David Silva, Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure and, in turn, cut the supply line to deadly duo, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko.
Now, I know “football is a funny game” and that we can all be made to look foolish with our predictions – witness Wigan’s astonishing FA Cup final win against City last May – but, if Mourinho goes 4-4-2 tonight I’ll eat my old boots, as well as that humble pie! If the wily Portuguese were to use that attacking formation, it would almost surely be suicidal against this rampant City side. And Mourinho doesn’t do gung-ho. So, sit back and prepare for a fascinating contest, one that will present Manuel Pellegrini and his players with probably their toughest test to date. Bring it on!