Man City 2 Chelsea 0
One score may have been settled in emphatic fashion as Manuel Pellegrini helped Manchester City negotiate their fifth round FA Cup tie but, such is the nature of life at the Etihad Stadium these days, that the next, far larger, challenge lies just ahead.
A home league defeat to Chelsea two weeks earlier, coupled with a goalless draw at Norwich, had represented a definite blip in City’s season, and their quest for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies, while also raising questions about Pellegrini’s tactical acumen.
The manner in which City knocked Chelsea out of the cup, therefore, appeared to answer a number of those questions about manager and players alike even if there is little time or opportunity for City personnel to savour the moment.
Barcelona visit the Etihad tomorrow for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, a game which may yet prove to represent something of a passing of the torch from old European power to new should City prevail.
Reports of Barcelona’s demise may yet be premature, of course, as a 6-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday indicated but, without a Champions League title since 2011, are Barcelona a fading force?
“It’s hard to say because they set the standards so high in the past,” said City’s Spanish winger Jesus Navas, a former Liga star with Sevilla.
“It is very, very difficult to keep playing with that kind of style year in and year out. But, that said, they are top of La Liga and they are in the final of the Copa del Rey.
“It is always difficult to face Barcelona, they always have top quality players. I remember playing so many times when I was at Sevilla. How many times have I beaten Barcelona? I don’t know, three at least.
“But we have been training hard and hopefully by preparing this match well we can go through to the next round. We are full of confidence.
“The one thing we must do is play with high pressure and high tempo because they have some top-quality players.”
Given City’s largely unstoppable ability to find the net this season — unstoppable at least until they failed to score in those games against Chelsea and Norwich — Pellegrini was particularly pleased with the FA Cup victory as it showcased his team’s attacking prowess and his insistence that they will not abandon that style of football under any circumstances.
The broader question, of course, as City switch from domestic action to the rarified atmosphere of the Champions League knock-out stages, is whether the Premier League title hopefuls can impose that style on a team as well versed in European football as the Catalans.
“The reality is that type of game has served us really well this season,” said Navas. “It is a style we particularly enjoy but it will be difficult to impose it on Barcelona because they also want a lot of the ball and it will be very intense on our side. They will find we are a really difficult team to play against and to beat. We are playing very well, creating chances scoring a lot of goals. I reckon they won’t be happy having to come here.”
Mourinho will share those sentiments after failing to beat City for the first time in three attempts this season. His team were never in the contest, certainly not after Stevan Jovetic shot the hosts into a 16th minute lead and the only point of interest thereafter lay in how many goals Pellegrini’s team would add. Ultimately, Samir Nasri, playing for the first time in five weeks following knee injury, doubled the advantage but it could have been more.
Mourinho was certainly fulsome in his praise of City and made no attempt to rationalise a performance which he rated one of the worst since his return to Stamford Bridge.
And while the irrepressible Chelsea manager was in no hurry to analyse City’s prospects for completing the quadruple, he did make an interesting observation on the subject.
“That’s not a problem,” he said of the fixture congestion that could afflict City. “What affects the Premier League is the change of the fixtures. They have to play later when they play after the other teams fighting for the title, it is easier. They know somebody lost, somebody won, they lost two points, one point is enough for us. That is an advantage. But it’s not their fault. It’s the weather, the fixtures, the FA, the Premier League, so it’s not their fault.”
Exiting the FA Cup represented an unhappy 24 hours for Mourinho, who had found himself embroiled in a war of words with Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger, who appeared to have accused the Chelsea manager of being fearful of losing. Mourinho’s predictable response was to label Wenger a “specialist in failure” and he was in no mood to back away from the controversy at the Etihad.
“The only thing I feel that I was very quiet in my place and somebody spoke not in a nice way about us,” he said.
“After that, I don’t accept that one is always ‘Monsieur polite’ and the other one is always the bad guy. I don’t accept, I’m sorry.”
MAN CITY (4-4-2): Pantilimon 5; Zabaleta 7, Lescott 8, Kompany 8, Clichy 7; Milner 9, Toure 8, Garcia 7, Silva 8 (Navas 68, 7); Jovetic 7 (Nasri 60, 8), Dzeko 7 (Negredo 80).
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 7, Luiz 6, Azpilicueta 6; Mikel 5, Matic 5; Ramires 5 (Torres 60, 6), Willian 6 (Oscar 71), Hazard 7; Eto’o 5 (Salah 46, 5).
Referee: P Dowd 5.
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