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Pellegrini learned a few lessons from his last tussle with Mourinho as was evident in his 2-0 win. Goal's Brendon Netto discusses how City nullified Chelsea's threat.

 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | England
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It would be remiss to suggest that Jose Mourinho tried to pull off the same strategy that earned Chelsea a win at the Etihad Stadium almost two weeks ago but he certainly did try to go down a similar path. The difference was, Manchester City were wise to it this time around and their 2-0 win to eliminate Chelsea from the FA Cup gave the distinct impression of a team that learned quickly from their mistakes.

Despite the Citizens enjoying home court advantage yet again, the fact that they play Barcelona on Tuesday night was a distraction and that reflected in their starting line-up. Manuel Pellegrini was clearly still keen on avenging their recent defeat against the Londoners though as he fielded arguably his three best players available in Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva.

Jovetic took his chance as City were deserved winners

However, third and fourth choice strikers Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic got the nod upfront while Joleon Lescott and James Milner were handed rare starts as well. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s first eleven was almost identical to the one that emerged victorious on the same ground twelve days ago with only John Terry missing out.

The fixture lacked the intensity and pace of its previous edition as City chose not to flood forward but instead, attack with precision. With John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic sitting in front of the back four, Chelsea were once again set up to remain compact and attack on the break as Eden Hazard, Willian and Ramires offered plenty of pace in the final third.

However, City were aware of the vulnerabilities they exposed previously and made it a point to safeguard themselves from getting hit on the counter-attack. They were patient in possession and more importantly, they were patient without it too.

City were patient with and without the ball

They didn’t hound Chelsea to win the ball back. They got into shape and defended their lines instead of being too eager to get on the ball and attack like they were in their previous encounter. In fact, Chelsea enjoyed a much improved 44% of possession on their latest visit to the Etihad compared to the 35% they managed previously.

So what happens when a side that’s set up to play on the counter-attack aren’t allowed to? They naturally struggle to create chances and Chelsea failed to register a single shot on target all night, only the second time they have failed to do so this season, the other occasion being against FC Basel.

Even Mourinho was honest enough to admit that they were unable to create any chances of note, albeit while questioning the legitimacy of the second goal when he said, “The second goal was an offside but we would still have lost 1-0 as we were never close to scaring City in the game.” 

Milner backed-up Zabaleta against Hazard

Meanwhile, a few personnel changes also aided City’s cause. Gael Clichy is far from the marauding left-back Aleksandar Kolarov is and hence kept last time’s match-winner Branislav Ivanovic in check. Down the opposite flank, the industry of Milner served to shackle Hazard who caused Pablo Zabaleta all sorts of problems when they last met.

Perhaps the greatest compliment you can give Pellegrini for his latest win is that he forced Mourinho into a string of changes. The Portuguese replaced the ineffective Samuel Eto’o for Mohamed Salah and instructed the winger to play as a center forward.

He tinkered with his formation and later brought on Fernando Torres and finally Oscar. Mourinho desperately tried to find a solution but fell woefully short. Lescott and Kompany enjoyed a good game and reminded City fans of a time when the duo were the undisputed central defensive pairing for the Manchester outfit.

Mourinho couldn't find a solution

Essentially, City’s guarded approach meant that it came down to each side having to work to break down the other and in that regard, Pellegrini's outfit are far superior and they proved it. The link-up play between their attacking players was exponentially greater than anything Chelsea could muster. City were the better team, created a fair amount of chances and dutifully took two of them to seal the tie.

In the aftermath, Mourinho set out to absolve his players of any blame yet again claiming, “I don't say my team failed, I say City played much better than us, deserved much more than us to win."

Pellegrini was quick to dismiss any suggestions of City taking ‘revenge’ for their defeat in the league but that’s not the way their elated fans will see it. Following an eventful week that saw Mourinho take a few swipes at his competition with his words, it’s ironic that the manager most averse to these so-called ‘mind games’, has perhaps struck the biggest blow.

 

Did Mourinho get it wrong? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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