Chelsea attack the wild card in City clash

Posted by Miguel Delaney

It is the question everyone is struggling to answer, and Jose Mourinho was never going to give too much away before Monday night at the Etihad.

The Chelsea manager did elaborate on a potentially more decisive issue, though, when asked just how he plans to stop Manchester City from scoring.

"Play our game," Mourinho stated. "They have also to stop us."

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Whether Chelsea can get that far, and impose their own style, may not just be the key to this title showdown, but also the entire title race.

There can be no disputing the dominant factor in this race so far: City's historically sensational scoring. Manuel Pellegrini's side have hit a frightening 68 goals in 23 league fixtures. With a ratio of 2.96 a game, they are by far the most prolific team since the end of World War II.

City have scored three or more in 23 of their 37 games in all competitions, and they haven't drawn a blank in three months.

All of that, of course, is the consequence of a coruscating attack that simply overwhelms and unravels every opposing defence. No matter how you approach them, it seems, City will strip you apart. If Pellegrini refused to call them "invincible" on Friday, they look unstoppable.

"We try to tell the players it does not matter who we play and whether it is at home or away," Pellegrini said. "It is very important to play from the beginning, having a willing mentality, go for the match and work very well with and without the ball. It is the best way to play.

"I don't think it is a romantic thing. When you have top players, I think it is very important for them to have possession of the ball, first of all. I think that is what football is about. If you have the possession, they will make the difference."

Mourinho also insists that could be the difference in whether Chelsea apply their own game or not.

"City score goals," he said. "Normally, when your approach is very defensive, if you concede a goal, you are in trouble and you have to make changes during the games. We are going to try to win. We're not going to change our philosophy. We're going in a certain direction. It's not because of one game playing against certain opponents. We're not going to change our philosophy.

"After that, if they are much better than us, and we cannot express our game or football, that's a different story. But the intention, the way we are going there, the intention we bring with us, is to play a good game."

As ever with Mourinho, it's possible this is all a bit of psychology, right up there with his repeated insistence that Chelsea are unlikely to win the league this season because of City’s quality. As well as heaping more pressure on Pellegrini's side, it could serve as a pre-emptive answer to any accusations of hypocrisy after his criticisms of West Ham United following Wednesday's 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge.

When Mourinho was asked whether he would effectively have to mimic Sam Allardyce's approach to stop City, he was dismissive.

"We don't do that."

Many might point to the fact Mourinho himself seemed perfectly prepared to do exactly that in December's 0-0 draw at Arsenal or, most infamously, the 2010 Champions League semifinal with Inter Milan against Barcelona.

He has argued that Chelsea actually had the superior chances in that match at the Emirates, and that the defensive performance at Camp Nou four years ago is only one side of the story.

"I prefer the first [leg]," Mourinho said with smile when that option was put to him. "When two games are one game, and in one game, you are winning 3-1, you can play the second game in a different way, especially if you play with 10 men 75 minutes."

In other words, Inter played their game, they posed Barca problems of their own, and the Catalans couldn't stop them.

To give him his due, that was also what happened in the first meeting between City and Chelsea in October. In what was one of the season's better matches, there was an engaging push and pull, with Mourinho's side ultimately outscoring Pellegrini's 2-1. It was a tactically impressive performance, as Chelsea generally kept it tight but still had the temerity to try to pull City around further forward.

Yet, if the Portuguese claims mitigating circumstances in regard to the 2010 Barcelona match, Pellegrini does the same about that defeat -- especially about City's last-minute defensive error.

"In the last match against Chelsea we made a very important mistake and we didn't win the game," he said. "We have improved since then. All the statistics say we're improving. In December we won nine games and drew one. We scored 26-27 goals and conceded just 12. In January it was the same. We played nine games and drew one but we scored more -- 32 goals and conceded less. We must continue to improve because football changes very quickly."

On Monday, it will be revealing to see who is forced to change their game the most. If Chelsea do, and City eventually beat them, it will definitely seem like Pellegrini's side have reached a new level and may well romp to the title -- particularly given how they also eviscerated Arsenal. Mourinho's outfit, after all, currently have the best defence in the league. If they don't have the foundation to do more against the best attack, who does? Yet, if Chelsea can do a little more, it may just be that City's magnificent scoring when ahead has obscured a few less obvious issues with this team.

Before it, however, one thing is patently clear: Stopping City from scoring remains a quandary.

Best attacks since 1945:

Season -- club -- games -- goals -- goals per game
2013-14 -- Manchester City -- 23 -- 68 -- 2.96
1960-61 -- Tottenham Hotspur -- 42 -- 115 -- 2.73
2009-10 -- Chelsea -- 38 -- 103 -- 2.71
1962-63 -- Tottenham Hotspur -- 42 -- 111 -- 2.64
1958-59 -- Wolves -- 42 – 110 -- 2.62
1999-2000 -- Manchester United -- 38 -- 97 -- 2.55
1959-60 -- Wolves -- 42 -- 106 -- 2.52
1957-58 -- Manchester City -- 42 -- 104 -- 2.48
1956-57 -- Tottenham Hotspur -- 42 -- 104 -- 2.48
1956-57 -- Manchester United -- 42 -- 103 -- 2.45
1960-61 -- Wolves -- 42 -- 103 -- 2.45
1958-59 -- Manchester United -- 42 -- 103 -- 2.45
1957-58 -- Wolves -- 42 -- 103 -- 2.45
2011-12 -- Manchester City -- 38 -- 93 -- 2.45
1960-61 -- Burnley -- 42 -- 102 -- 2.43
1959-60 -- Manchester United -- 42 -- 102 -- 2.43
2013-14 -- Liverpool -- 24 -- 58 -- 2.42
1961-62 -- Burnley -- 42 -- 101 -- 2.41
1957-58 -- Preston North End -- 42 -- 100 -- 2.38
2011-12 -- Manchester United -- 38 -- 89 -- 2.34

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