Manchester City v Chelsea: Yaya Touré is set to be up against Oscar at The Etihad
Are you ready for an evening of FUN and ADVENTURE and GOALS and 21ST CENTURY SOCCER? Because you darn better be! There’s always FUN and ADVENTURE and GOALS and 21ST CENTURY SOCCER when that crazy guy Jose Mourinho’s around. Can’t move for all the thrills and spills. Wouldn’t catch him taking a time machine back to 1876 or wherever it is Sam Allardyce lives! No danger of him parking his triple-decker bus in front of the Chelsea goal and swallowing the keys, then plonking an aeroplane there for good measure, before growing a particularly thorny rose bush just outside the area. Not our Jose! No siree, his teams are like Brazil 1970 multiplied by Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Got ourselves a regular Ossie Ardiles over here! Watch out, we’re promising FUN and ADVENTURE and GOALS and 21ST CENTURY SOCCER!
Or not. Perhaps the above is stretching the truth a tad. No, come to think of it, Mourinho’s probably not going to have his poor, underfunded, financially stricken Chelsea side set up in a freewheeling 2-3-5 formation tonight, complete with Petr Cech playing as a sweeper, David Luiz given freedom to bomb on and Eden Hazard and Oscar told to forget about their defensive duties. That’s probably not going to happen.
It would, of course, be extremely entertaining if Mourinho did do that. But it would also be extremely stupid that Manchester City have scored bucketloads at the Etihad Stadium, where they have not dropped a point, and come into this match on the back of leaving Tottenham with a bloody nose last Wednesday. While they were thrashing Tactics Tim’s Troops to the tune of five goals to one, Chelsea were busy struggling to break down West Ham, eventually forced to settle for a frustrating 0-0 draw in which their lack of a top-class striker was telling. And while City might be without the injured Sergio Aguero, they still have three top-class strikers in the shape of Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic, each one ready to fire them back to the top of the league.
So if Chelsea have anything to say about this, it’s not going to be a classic. Just like it wasn’t when they went to Manchester United and Arsenal earlier this season, leaving both Old Trafford and the Emirates with unapologetically dull 0-0 draws. Thing is, there’s nothing wrong with it, even if it feels slightly ridiculous for a club as rich as Chelsea to play with the handbrake on. But football is about contrasting styles. City are brilliant to watch, attacking with abandon and putting the hurt on teams even when the game has long been won, and Chelsea are tough, resilient, experienced, streetwise and, like every Mourinho side, capable of playing when the moment demands it. To paraphrase Michael Laudrup, there is no right or wrong style, different matches and circumstances call for different approaches and, in the end, the winner’s always right. More often than not, Mourinho tends to be right. You wouldn’t put it past him to be right again tonight.
But City are still massive favourites and know that the onus will be on them to attack. They’re probably unlikely to do what Barcelona did to Mourinho’s Real Madrid in 2010 and win 5-0 but they can be comfortable in the knowledge that they are both the better side and that they have won their last four home matches against Chelsea (although the last match between the two sides featured Joe Hart’s mad dash to gift Fernando Torres a late winner). And in Manuel Pellegrini, City have the anti-Mourinho – a manager who has not got the slightest interest in media chat but who just wants his side to attack. Which way is right? Usually Mourinho’s way. But maybe not tonight.