Chelsea FC take on Manchester City on Sunday hoping to bounce back from what was a disappointing result at home against Swansea City to begin the season, whilst Pellegrini’s men will look to make a statement against the champions.
Often the biggest games in the Premier League are decided on the tiniest details. Over the years, Jos Mourinho has built a reputation as being a particularly discerning manager when it comes down to those details.
Indeed, his record in the Premier League against the top teams – particularly since his return to England – is indicative of that. The Portuguese is yet to be beaten in the league by Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Arsenal FC or indeed Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side over a total of sixteen games since he took over the reigns at Chelsea FC once again in 2013.
Facing a decidedly vulnerable defence on Sunday, Pellegrini arguably has his best opportunity to finally get a win over rival Mourinho in the Premier League. Here are five key battles that could determine the outcome of Sunday’s highly-anticipated fixture:
Yaya Tour vs Nemanja Mati
Often built up as a battle between the unstoppable force that is Ivory Coast international Yaya Tour and the immovable object that is Serbian anchorman Nemanja Mati , the individual battle between these two physical midfield specimens is a sight to behold. The Chelsea FC defensive midfielder famously made his first Premier League start at the Etihad in the corresponding fixture two seasons ago, successfully keeping Tour in check in a 1-0 win for the Blues.
Although occasionally accused of shirking his defensive responsibilities, the former FC Barcelona midfielder is capable of single-handedly running a match from midfield and consequently determining the outcome of the game, as was the case in the Citizens’ Premier League opener against West Brom last Monday.
As such, the importance of Mati in a game like this cannot be overstated. The Serbian will have to be at his best to stop – in a very literal sense – Yaya Tour , who is knowing for his driving runs from midfield. Keeping Tour quiet is half the battle won for Chelsea FC.
Being partnered with Kurt Zouma or John Obi Mikel – as is quite likely – will not only allow Mati more freedom to press in more advanced areas with an insurance policy behind him, but also enable him to close down Tour in wider areas of the pitch if necessary.
Comfortably the most important individual battle in the game, the winner of Yaya Tour vs Nemanja Mati will – more likely than not – also be the winner of the match.
Raheem Sterling vs Branislav Ivanovi
Even as the Chelsea FC vice-captain recovers from the run-around Swansea winger Jefferson Montero gave him in the Blues’ Premier League opener, he is now faced with the prospect of coming up against another lightning quick, tricky little winger in new Manchester City recruit Raheem Sterling.
Ivanovi has been used extensively by Jos Mourinho to provide width to the Blues’ attack, but has often found himself out of position and unable to recover in time for an opposition counter-attack. Against Raheem Sterling, any such positional lapses will be fatal. If the young Englishman gets beyond the Serb, there is simply no stopping him.
In view of that, it is likely that Ivanovi ‘s forays into the attacking third will be kept to a minimum. Brazilian winger Willian will also have a very important role in terms of providing cover for the Serbia national team captain, who will undoubtedly need every bit of that help.
It does not take an exceptionally advanced football mind to discern that Ivanovi can be beaten for pace by the likes of Sterling, and that it is an area in the Chelsea FC defence that can be exploited in that manner. As such, Mourinho will be extremely aware of the 20-year-old’s threat and will no doubt have a plan to mitigate it.
Eden Hazard vs Pablo Zabaleta/Bacary Sagna
The Belgian superstar is, without question, the most potent attacking threat Chelsea FC possess. The outcome of the game for the Blues will have a lot to do with the evening Eden Hazard has at the Etihad. The 24-year-old has tortured Zabaleta in the past, and will be looking to repeat his performance from the corresponding fixture two seasons ago on Sunday.
Although Hazard often drifts around quite a bit during a game, Chelsea FC will look to try and isolate him against the Manchester City right-back, such that he can do what he is best at doing – cutting in, running at the defence and wreaking absolute havoc.
Operating in central areas is unlikely to bring the Belgian much joy given the midfield is likely to be crowded, and the fact that it would allow Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany to step up from his defensive line and confront his compatriot – as was the case on more than one occasion at the Etihad last season.
Consequently, Hazard will be looking to peel away from the City right-back with an aim of creating space to receive the ball and run at the defence. It is what allowed him to set up a beautifully worked goal for LoA?c R my when the two sides met at Stamford Bridge last season.
Keeping Hazard quiet is easier said than done, but if Manchester City can achieve that, they are much more likely to get a positive result from the game.
Diego Costa vs Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala
It was a Premier League d but to remember for Frenchman Eliaquim Mangala against Chelsea FC at the Etihad last season, as he put in an outstanding performance to almost completely nullify the threat of an increasingly irate Diego Costa, ably supported by centre-back partner Vincent Kompany.
Few Premier League defences last season could reasonably lay claim to having bullied Diego Costa, but that is precisely what the Komapny-Mangala tandem did. A repeat of the performance from last season is exactly what Manuel Pellegrini will want on Sunday.
The pair took in turns to mark Diego Costa out of the game, incessantly snapping at his heels whenever he received the ball and giving him no room to breathe whatsoever. For his part, the Brazilian born Spanish international will be looking for revenge this time around as he looks for his first goal of the season.
Both Kompany and Mangala will relish the physical challenge Costa is likely to provide, and the Chelsea FC striker will have to be careful to keep his emotions under control in what will be one of the most intriguing mini-battles on the pitch.
David Silva vs Kurt Zouma/John Obi Mikel
The Spanish magician has been in fine touch throughout pre-season and will be looking to build on his strong start against West Brom last week. David Silva is – more than any other player on the pitch – the man whose creativity can provide Manchester City with a breakthrough against what will be a well-organised Chelsea FC defence.
The former Valencia midfielder is a master at drifting into spaces between the opposition’s defence and midfield, and the more time he has on the ball in that area, the more damaging it is likely to be for the opposition.
In view of that, it seems quite likely that either Frenchman Kurt Zouma or Nigerian international John Obi Mikel will play in midfield for Chelsea FC with the aim of mitigating Silva’s sizeable attacking threat. Zouma – who is the more athletic of the two – could well be preferred over Mikel and is likely to be asked to man-mark Silva when possible.
The sheer technical brilliance and creativity of David Silva makes him one of the biggest threats to the Blues’ chances in this game, and keeping him quiet will go a long way towards Mourinho’s men getting a positive result at the Etihad.
With Chelsea FC embroiled in controversy, defensively vulnerable and fairly blunt in attack, Manuel Pellegrini is unlikely to have a better chance to beat the champions in front of a home crowd – to make a real statement of intent in the nascent stages of what promises to be one of the most exciting seasons of Premier League football yet.