Mourinho plotting another win over City

Posted by Mark Worrall

Less than two weeks after securing the most impressive away win of the English football season to date, Chelsea return to the Etihad to duel once more with Manchester City and prove that their recent 1-0 Premier League victory over Saturday's FA Cup opponent was no fluke.

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Ordinarily, a fifth-round cup tie might have been viewed by respective managers Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini as an opportunity to relax a little and maybe rest and rotate players. However, given the Blues' recent success against the Citizens, and the war of words between Mourinho and Pellegrini, the chances are that whatever the lineups, spectators are going to be treated to a full-on, rumbustious match deserving of the oldest and greatest domestic cup competition in the world.

The records show that a Branislav Ivanovic goal was all that separated the two sides in that recent and epic PL joust, but an analysis of the game shows that master tactician Mourinho set the Blues up immaculately to effectively neutralise the most potent goal machine in the league. A solid back line shielded by a robust defensive midfield provided Chelsea's creative players with the opportunity to flourish on a night when Manchester City came up short in every department. It was the first time during the present campaign that the Citizens had failed to win in front of their own supporters, and the first time they had failed to score on home turf in 55 games. By full-time, the disappointment was etched on the face of each and every member of the Etihad faithful.

By virtue of the inclement English weather that saw City's midweek league game with Sunderland postponed, Pellegrini's men will come into the tie fresher than their opponents, who endured a bruising encounter at the Hawthorns on Tuesday night. An unwelcome byproduct of Chelsea's disappointing 1-1 draw with West Brom was the calf injury suffered by Gary Cahill, and it remains unclear whether the England international -- who has established himself as one-half of Mourinho's first-choice central defensive partnership alongside John Terry -- will have recovered in time to play on Saturday.

Terry, who following a training ground knock has not played since the 1-0 PL win at Etihad, was sorely missed against the Baggies, a game that saw Mourinho push David Luiz back into defence, and the Blues' boss confirmed at Friday's pre-match news conference that his skipper remains sidelined for Saturday's FA Cup clash.

In the recent PL match with City, Cahill and Terry effectively marshalled Chelsea's defence against the threat posed by Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko, while Luiz and Nemanja Matic stifled the midfield endeavours of Yaya Toure and David Silva. Shorn of the services of Terry for the Blues' next game against Newcastle United, Luiz partnered Cahill at the back, but a feeble Magpies side posed little threat, unlike West Brom, whose late equaliser came when substitute Victor Anichebe got in front of the Brazilian to head home.

Clearly, Luiz remains a risky option to play in central defence, and with this in mind, and Terry definitely out, Mourinho may elect to recall Ashley Cole at left back, play Cesar Azpilicueta on the right, with Ivanovic moving to the middle to partner Cahill. If Cahill fails to make it, then Mourinho's options become self-limiting, and Luiz is likely to play at the back with Ivanovic.

The Chelsea manager has no injury concerns to contend with, and his selection process may reflect him second-guessing Pellegrini's likely starting XI, knowing the wily, deep-thinking Chilean will be weighing the merits of progress in the FA Cup against securing a first-leg Champions League round-of-16 lead against Barcelona. "It's important to give importance to the cup," Pellegrini said earlier this week. "But at this moment I have to decide which game will be more important and maybe it's Barcelona. Maybe we will put an alternative team out against Chelsea."

Man City fans nervous about Pellegrini's comments will at least be buoyed by the news that Samir Nasri and Javi Garcia are fit to face Chelsea, though Fernandinho, Matija Nastasic and Sergio Aguero all have been ruled out.

The Blues, meanwhile, have the luxury of a week's grace before facing Everton in the PL and then travelling to Istanbul to face Galatasaray in the Champions League, and Mourinho will relish the opportunity to master Pellegrini and the Citizens in their own backyard once again.

Another cagey affair seems in prospect, though with Chelsea's potential defensive frailties open to exposure, and Man City's heads likely not to be turned by the imminent visit of Barcelona, the eventual outcome could produce more than the solitary goal that settled the recent league encounter. As for predicting the victors, little has changed in the past two weeks. Mourinho has the desire and know-how to outdo Pellegrini, and for the third time this season, this could prove the telling difference.


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