In tomorrow afternoon’s late kick-off, Manchester City play hosts to Chelsea in the FA Cup. The auxiliary tie looks set to be another heated skirmish between the two title rivals, who have been battling it out in the Premier League and in the press this season.
As we anticipate what will undoubtedly be another firey, gripping and high intensity contest between the two sides, in replication of both of their Premier League meetings this season, one can only ponder how much tomorrow’s cup clash means to both the City and Blues camps. Who wants the win more? Or even better, who needs it more? And extrapolating from Saturday’s action further, how much does the FA Cup mean to either side?
In regards to tomorrow’s fixture, you get the feeling Manuel Pellegrini will want it more than Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea gaffer has out-manoeuvred and out-thought the Chilean on the tactical front twice already this season, masterminding a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge and a 0-1 victory at the Etihad.
The home defeat will have hurt the City boss the most. Prior to that, the Citizens had won twelve games on the bounce at the Etihad, scoring 42 goals and conceding just eight. But in what has been described by many as the perfect away performance, anticipating and nullifying the Manchester club’s potent build-up play before exploiting the space they left behind on the counter-attack, Mourinho’s men recorded the first away clean sheet of the season at the Etihad, which has dramatically altered the balance of power at the top of the Premier league table.
Furthermore, in typical Mourinho fashion, the Chelsea gaffer has hardly been gracious in victory. Rather, it’s only further given the Portuguese due cause to poke fun at his City counter-part, making a variety of press conference jibes on a host of issues, from the Skyblues ‘dodgy FFP’ to his regular analogies of animals and sports cars.
More than anything else, the Chilean boss will view tomorrow’s FA Cup clash as a chance to shut his arch rival up, at least for the course of the weekend. There’s certainly no love lost between the two.
Facing Barcelona in mid-week however, in a competition which undoubtedly takes priority over the FA Cup due to City’s continual failure in the Champions League under Pellegrini’s predecessor, Roberto Mancini, balancing out both tournaments will require a wise choice of squad selection. Then again, if there’s one roster in the English top flight that can handle such burdens on many fronts, it’s undoubtedly Manchester City’s.
But Mourinho too will view tomorrow’s proxy war as an opportunity for one-upmanship. Through his press conference riling and current Premier League record over Pellegrini, the Chelsea boss has the Chilean wound-up and in his pocket. Forever an advocate of the dark arts behind the beautiful game, the Special One won’t want to lose that psychological advantage on Chelsea’s biggest threat the Premier League title.
Not that an FA Cup win for City would completely settle the score, but none the less, to maintain the right to brag, jibe and publicly mock the Etihad manager, Mourinho will not let tomorrow’s match slip idly by; he’s too much of a winner for that kind of pragmatic mentality.
The West Londoners also have the luxury of not facing Galatasaray in the Champions League until the 26th, and their next Premier League tie against Everton won’t be until next Saturday, giving Mourinho full pick of his Chelsea roster without constraint from other competitions. Although he will be without in-form centre-back pairing Gary Cahill and John Terry through injury.
But looking on from tomorrow’s fixture, how much impetus are Manchester City and Chelsea willing to put on the FA Cup in comparison to their other fronts this season?
As previously stated, showcasing Manchester City’s quality in Europe, and perhaps most importantly the spending power of the Sheik owners, is a leading priority for Manuel Pellegrini. Having failed to escape the group stages in their last two campaigns, poor showings on the continent was undoubtedly one of the deciding factors in Mancini getting the managerial axe at the start of the season, and unless the Chilean wants to encourage similar question marks over his own tenure in the City dugout, he needs to distance himself from his predecessor via City’s form in Europe.
With that in mind, results in the Premier League and the Champions League undoubtedly come first over the Citizens’ progression in the FA Cup. Especially if Pellegrini can add to the City silverware cabinet in the form of the League Cup when they take on Sunderland at Wembley in March, filling the owners’ apparent ‘one trophy per season’ quota.
That being said, if the City gaffer’s claims of a potential ‘quadruple’ campaign are more than just words, he’ll be giving the FA Cup as much focus as any other competition; he’s certainly got the squad to do so.
Jose Mourinho on the other hand, will be giving the competition greater priority, having already downplayed his side’s chances in the Premier League and Champions League. Once again, it’s most likely yet another case of the Special One’s regular rhetoric to put pressure on his rivals, but considering a bona fide goalscorer is still absent from the Chelsea squad and the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Nemanja Matic and Willian are yet to reach the fullest of their potential, there is some reality behind his ‘little horse’ metaphors.
Furthermore, upon Mourinho’s original arrival in England back in 2004, his first port of call was to instigate a winning mentality by claiming the League Cup. The Special One hasn’t been able to replicate that feat this year, but in failing to do so, he will undoubtedly turn his attentions to the FA Cup, or else have nothing to show but mild improvement for his returning campaign at Stamford Bridge, should his prophecies of Chelsea falling at the final hurdle in the Premiership prove to be true.
It will give the Blues a winning platform to work from next term when according to Mourinho, his side will be a horse ‘ready to race’.
So in my opinion at least, Mourinho will be more focused on the FA Cup than his City counter-part – he’s already dubbed the competition as ‘big and beautiful’ this afternoon – but it will be Pellegrini who turns up tomorrow more determined for victory.
That being said however, both managers will be incredibly aware that there’s no prizes for coming second in the Premier League, at least, not one that will go down in the history books or remain in the minds of the fans. And falling short in the top flight is a blow only softened if it’s compensated with the second-greatest accolade in English football.
Both Pellegrini and Mourinho will view the FA Cup as the potential runner-up prize for whoever doesn’t walk away with the English crown this season, and therefore an opportunity they won’t want to miss out on.
That however, will depend greatly on tomorrow afternoon.