|The Beauty and The Beast.|
The Champions of Europe face off with the Champions of England vying to book themselves a berth in the prestigious
THE GAFFER AND HIS TEAM :
Roberto Mancini might not have a lot of time left as Manchester City's manager, but despite most of his players opting to sleep through matches throughout the season, he has provided the tactical impetus to tie the second position up for them. While he still insists that City stand a chance to pluck this season's league title right from inside United's undies, it just might be absolutely absurd. As a manager, he's tactically aware, unlike ours, and makes crucial substitutions when it really matters, like bringing on Tevez for Rodwell when we last played them or bringing Aguero for Nasri in last week's Manchester derby.
He has juggled with formations as well this season. He started off with a 3-5-2, didn't see much success, happily reverted to a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 hybrid, which is essentially the textbook 'two banks of four while defending' and 'two strikers while attacking'. He likes his side to have a patient build-up play, racking up the numbers in terms of possession and passes and, unlike Barca, scoring rather than just boring. City have all but sacrificed width in exchange for between-the-lines play by Silva, Nasri, Aguero and the industry of Milner.
The attackers employ ridiculously difficult to mark interchange between themselves, much alike to what Mata, Oscar and Hazard have been doing for us this season. When the opponent parks the bus, they use Nastasic to build play up and bring the ball out of the defence. Rodwell and Yaya Toure break their midfield lines to overload between lines or tease Center-Backs out of their position, stretching the defence, leaving space for David Silva to operate. Being highly industrial and mobile, the Argentines Tevez and Aguero often drop deep to nick the ball. This is the kind of game Mikel is made for as he provides the positioning that nullifies a large part of City's off-the-ball movement. I'll kill a kitten, PETA-style, if Mikel doesn't start today.
Defensively, City employ a high-pressing strategy, forcing the opponent to play long or go wide, where their midfield duo choke them and the attack ends before it could become materialise properly. Zabaleta often moves infield, which should leave some space for Hazard to manipulate things if Mata doesn't get going. How quickly do Chelsea regroup after losing possession would be the key, as City have a plethora of players who can play a first-time defence-splitting though ball.
LAST TIME OUT... :
The last time these teams met, in late February at the Etihad Stadium, City ran out 2-0 winners. Most notable from that game would be that Chelsea dominated possession over City (53%-47%). However, this inflated only when Chelsea were chasing the game after going down and mostly came in non-threatening zones. Both teams started cautiously, especially Chelsea, in the first half. City slowly came into their own and dominated proceedings before the interval. Right after the break, an Ivanovic long ball played Ba in and he was eventually brought down by Hart. The resulting penalty from Lampard was saved. Then City broke and scored soon and Chelsea were left chasing the game. City, capitalising on all the space now left by Chelsea, scored a second and killed the game.
CITY'S LAST GAME :
This Manchester derby put extra pressure on City as they had all but lost the title. This was a must-win to salvage some pride and mathematically remain in the title hunt. And win they did. Let's see how both teams lined up.
City eventually won 2-1 in a game that they deserved to win by more. They successfully exploited Rafael's attacking nature by overloading United's right. United's usual outlet of attack, passes from Giggs and Carrick to the wingers and Rooney, eventually setting a chance up for van Persie, was successfully inhibited. Rooney, instructed to mark Yaya Toure tightly, failed to do so, leaving the Ivorian to, pretty much, dominate proceedings. Silva, starting centrally, joined Tevez and Nasri on the left side as the game went on. United were expected to stifle the City playmakers like they did so successfully to Chelsea's trio, but they barely tried.
City scored off a deflected Milner striker before United equalised with Kompany turning a RvP free-kick into his own net. Then, Mancini brought on the game-changer, Aguero. The former Chelsea target came on for Nasri and ended up scoring the winner. How much would I have loved if we had bought Aguero instead of Torres !
Chelsea will find their going tough if City manage to come with all guns firing, but if Mikel and Hazard are on their day, I can see Chelsea pulling off a surprise win to be in touching distance of the Chelsea & Drogba Cup. By all means, this promises to be an exciting encounter wherein two teams with a slightly similar approach face off, hopefully in an all-attacking mode.