Manuel Pellegrini ignores Jose Mourinho to forge ahead
Chelsea boss airs grievances as he tries to get under rival’s skin
Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini: The two managers have very different personalties. Photograph: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images
There is a chance that, by the close of play against Manchester City, José Mourinho may be reminded about the scathing words he reserved for West Ham’s conservatism at Chelsea last week. His own tactics hardly bordered on the adventurous at Manchester United and Arsenal earlier in the season and, when it comes to parking the bus, it could be said Mourinho slipped on the handbrake then threw the keys down the nearest drain when his Internazionale team ventured to Barcelona for the second leg of their 2010 Champions League semi-final.
The allegation of possible double standards was gently pointed out before his Chelsea team set off for Manchester and, naturally, there was a look of disdain attached to the response.
“I took Barcelona by winning 3-1,” Mourinho said, recalling the first leg of that semi-final at San Siro. “But it should have been four or five. Inter played the best game of the last 50 years. We went to attack them. We knew we played the first game at home, and the second would be very difficult.
“We knew we had no chance if we didn’t win at home. So we went with everything we had and we won 3-1. In the second game, when you start 3-1 up and stay there with 10 men [Thiago Motta was sent off after 27 minutes], you put the aeroplane in front of the goal.” Inter flew away with a 3-2 aggregate win.
What can be said with absolute certainty is that City’s default setting is to go for the opposition. A team with 72 goals from 18 home games cannot be expected to do anything else.
“We play with two strikers, and we have two wingers who are virtually strikers,” Vincent Kompany said in an interview with ESPN a few days ago. “One of our midfield players – and we have only two – is also virtually a striker. Our full-backs are pushing up all the time so, ultimately, out of a team of 11 players we have six or seven always involved in the attack.”
City have scored 115 times this season and are near-certainties to beat the top-division record set by Manchester United in 1956-57 of 143 in all competitions. If they were to beat Chelsea and do the same to Norwich on Saturday – a side they have already put seven past this season – it would also mean United being closer in points to the relegation zone than top spot when they face Fulham on Sunday.
Yet it is not United who concern City. After the Chelsea game, the next six opponents for Manuel Pellegrini’s team are Norwich (15th), Sunderland (14th), Stoke (11th), Aston Villa (10th), Hull (13th) and Fulham (20th).
This is City’s chance to establish a position of command before playing at Old Trafford and Arsenal in the space of five days at the end of March.
Mourinho has certainly been trying to get under City’s skin. He is very clever in the way he does it, too, mostly because he has so much experience.
Lots of compliments and almost startled innocence when he is asked why he fell out with Pellegrini in Spain, but enough throwaway lines here and there to manipulate the headlines and be noticed.
Everybody knew which team would immediately be implicated when he talked, without naming names, about clubs with a “dodgy” perception of the financial fair-play rules (clue: not Paris St-Germain) and there was a personal edge when he brought up, unsolicited, Pellegrini’s error of not realising another goal against Bayern Munich would have meant City winning their Champions League group.
“The first thing to be successful in Europe is to know the rules of the competition, that’s the first thing,” the two-times Champions League winner helpfully volunteered.
On Pellegrini’s part, there has been a look of weary, seen-it-all-before indifference. Some managers prefer to be self-contained, and City’s is better described as vacuum-packed.
“I never comment on anything Mourinho says,” he says.
Mourinho is entirely different. What stands out most of all is the sense of grievance he has towards City because of the acclaim they receive. More than once, he has taken exception to it and referred back to the hostilities that accompanied his title wins for Chelsea, in line with Roman Abramovich’s rebuilding of the club.
“In my time we were accused of buying the title, no? Because our owner was Mr Abramovich, just arrived in the country. Maybe now people see City in a different way. I don’t know. And I don’t care. I don’t envy the fact that they have this kind of protection, or whichever word it is.”