As Chelsea arrived for their crunch tie with Manchester City last night it would have been fair to think that Jose Mourinho’s attack on West Ham’s ‘negative style’ was about to come back and haunt the Portuguese.
Instead what unfolded was an evening of thoroughly modern football and contrasting styles that say City boss Manuel Pellegrini outwitted by his charismatic counterpart.
The 1-0 defeat must serve as a warning for quadruple chasing City who are entering a pivotal month in their quest to lift four trophies.
With a Capital One Cup final place already booked the Sky Blues face Chelsea again in the FA Cup 5th round later in the month.
As if that wasn’t enough they follow that with the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against FC Barcelona.
Last night’s defeat however exposed many of the shortcomings in the depth of Manuel Pellegrini’s squad and the changes forced on the manager by injuries to key personnel should worry City fans.
The Chilean basically admitted in his post-match press conference that he had no choice but to play Martin Demichelis in place of the injured Fernandinho.
It proved to be a poor decision as the Argentine looked woefully out of his depth against a strong and committed Chelsea midfield.
Pellegrini’s decision seems even stranger given that Jack Rodwell and James Milner were both on the bench for last night’s game.
Admittedly both were returning from injury and neither would be fully match fit but it might have been a better option to play one or both for some time in the match.
The City boss claimed in his post-match press conference that Chelsea were lucky to win the match and that his team could easily have got a point. The truth is that it was City who were lucky and only the woodwork stopped a defeat becoming a rout.
The reality is that the victory was a tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho who simply outfoxed the Chilean with a counter-attacking game plan that exploited City’s natural tendency to attack.
After criticising West Ham for ’19th century’ tactics it did look like the Portuguese had come to the Etihad looking for a point from one of the toughest games of the season so far.
But it was a 21st century performance from his Chelsea team as they showed an attacking side that did not look evident from the team sheet and it was one that City simply could not match.
Pellegrini did not seem willing or able to counteract the tactics used by Mourinho’s men and his only change during match was Stevan Jovetic for an obviously not fully fit Alvaro Negredo.
That enforced change was as far as Pellegrini’s attempts to deal with Chelsea’s superior tactics went and worryingly for the supporters he just didn’t seem to be able to do anything else.
There is no doubt that Manchester City are a very good team but the fact that they were simply unable to respond to Chelsea in such a crucial game is an ominous sign with plenty of big clashes to come.
The failure to add players in the January transfer window did not seem so urgent before their lack of depth was so ruthlessly exposed by Mourinho.
A team without Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero looked like a pale imitation of the one that dismantled Spurs 5-1 less than a week ago.
The lack of adequate cover for their injured stars is a problem which may yet derail their hopes of winning the title or any of the other trophies they are chasing.
Despite what Jose Mourinho says the league title is very much a three horse race and while City might be narrow favourites to win it they may have to be prepared to sacrifice one or more of the other three trophies they crave in order to regain their Premiership crown.
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