4-4-2…no way, Jose!

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!

 

Treat in store

I believe Manchester City fans are in for a treat next season in the shape of £15m winger Jesus Navas. The Spanish international, signed from Sevilla, will light up the Etihad Stadium – and, hopefully, away grounds, too – if he reproduces the form he has shown during his appearances at the Confederations Cup in Brazil. I think City fans will be saying ‘here, at long last, is a winger to compare with our heroes of years gone by.’ Blues supporters of a certain age live with the memory of wingers like David Wagstaffe, Mike Summerbee and Peter Barnes. And, now, I reckon they have a player who has the ability to lift people off their seats, just as the aforementioned guys did.

Navas simply loves to take on defenders and cross the ball. And he has the speed and the skill to do both of those things. Okay, like all genuine wide players, Navas will frustrate as well as excite. And I’m not sure how much tracking back his team-mates can expect from him! But I am certain that he will embody one of the finest sights in football, that of a player surging past opponents and leaving defences rocking on the back foot. At 27 and after 10 years with Sevilla and 28 appearances for Spain, Navas is the complete, experienced package. Champions Manchester United have paid a similar figure for Wilfried Zaha, from Crystal Palace. But United bought potential when they signed the 20-year-old who will require some schooling before he passes the test. Navas, however, is a graduate and he is the real deal. Andres Iniesta, the superb Barcelona midfielder, puts Navas in the same bracket as last season’s outstanding Premier League player Gareth Bale, of Tottenham. As I say, City fans, you are going to see something special.

PS. I am delighted for Tottenham fans because it seems certain that Gareth Bale will remain at White Hart Lane, though possibly only for one more season. Reports suggest Real Madrid have put their pursuit of the Welsh wonder boy on hold, leaving 23-year-old Bale to continue his barnstorming progress with Spurs. Bale, understandably, will want Champions League football and Spurs, who have offered Bale a big pay rise, have underscored their desire to give it to him with the signing of Brazil midfielder Paulinho. It would not surprise me if Bale has a clause written into his new deal saying he can leave next summer. Who knows, if Spurs do qualify for the Champions League, he may not invoke it.