Chelsea and Manchester City are being moulded for success in contrasting styles

With Chelsea hosting Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, Brendon Netto discusses the contrasting methods in which their managers have been breeding them for success.
 Brendon Netto
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Comparisons between Chelsea and Manchester City have been drawn ever since the Abu Dhabi United Group purchased the club in 2008, instantly making them one of the wealthiest clubs in the world, a take-over that bore a stark resemblance to Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of Chelsea in 2003. However, there are further comparisons to be made with respect to the scenarios at both clubs this season.

A new manager has taken either side, albeit one for his second spell at the club. They’ve both spent large amounts of money on transfers over the summer and have endured slightly stuttering starts to their league campaigns while still appearing relatively strong and maintaining their tags as convincing title contenders. However, the manner in which Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini have gone about moulding their respective teams bears little resemblance.

Perhaps the contrasting styles of the two tacticians shouldn’t come as a surprise at all considering the vast difference in their personalities as well. Mourinho speaks his mind, makes controversial or amusing remarks and is extremely animated on the touch-line and pretty much the center of attention. Pellegrini on the other hand is the epitome of professionalism, never stirs the pot and is a relatively cool customer even in the heat of battle.

The Portuguese has always adopted a more pragmatic yet effective approach while the former Malaga boss is considered a purist who strives to deliver attractive football, yet has little to show for it in his trophy cabinet.

The Chelsea manager has most importantly worked to make his side a more compact and disciplined unit. In his quest to enforce the work ethic he demanded of his players, he even went as far as to sideline Juan Mata, the club’s Player of the Season for two years running. The Spaniard has however worked his way into the boss’ plans by undertaking more responsibility in defense.  

Mourinho is a shrewd customer and he prides himself on his tactics. In many ways it seems as though he’s deciphered that the best way forward for Chelsea is to go back to the basics. That’s precisely why they haven’t been as expressive in the final third as many expected given the wealth of attacking talent within their ranks.

In the opening few games they even seemed disjointed, particularly during their defeat to FC Basel, but Mourinho has drilled them into a better defensive unit and they now seem to have a plan in attack as well. His pragmatic nature came to the fore in their last game away to Schalke when he decided to shut up shop by replacing Andre Schurrle with John Obi Mikel after going 2-0 up and then bringing on David Luiz for Oscar a few minutes later.

Under Mourinho’s regime, players like John Terry, Eden Hazard, Ramires and Oscar are growing into prominent figures within the side. He’s used Frank Lampard sparingly in central midfield, one of the areas in which they failed to recruit adequately. He’s relied more on the wider players tracking back and less on full-backs pushing forward.

What’s even more promising is that although he’s still struggling to pick and choose his lone striker for each game, it’s for the right reasons at the moment. Demba Ba was impressive when he featured against Norwich City while Samuel Eto’o scored and was heavily involved in their win over Cardiff City on the weekend. Also, Fernando Torres has followed up his tenacious second-half performance at White Hart Lane with a brace in the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Pellegrini may have stuck to the 4-2-2-2 formation Roberto Mancini used to employ when he played four at the back but has altered their style of play for the better. One of City’s biggest and most common criticisms last season was their lack of width and the Chilean coach has been quick to rectify that.

The arrival of Jesus Navas has played a big role in that respect. While David Silva consistently drifts in from the left flank to drop into pockets of space, Navas stretches the back-line by hugging the touch-line on the opposite side and trying to get around the right-back. Meanwhile, Sergio Aguero’s movement has been key as well as he regularly makes diagonal runs down the left channel to exploit the space Silva vacates, thereby ensuring that their play doesn’t become too congested.

They’ve operated with a higher defensive line this season which has left them vulnerable on occasion particularly when Vincent Kompany has been unavailable but Fernandinho’s defensive displays have compensated for that to a large degree by offering strong cover for the back four. The summer signing has also enabled Yaya Toure to get forward more often and play with greater freedom.

Overall, City have begun moving the ball around a lot quicker and forming small triangles with their passing all over the pitch. They play at a higher tempo and are a lot more dynamic going forward than they were last season.

Both managers have improved their respective sides in their separate ways but we may find out which team has come further when Chelsea host City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. This fixture has been dubbed the “Money Derby” and while there will be some summer signings on display, the intriguing aspect of the clash could well be the battle between the contrasting approaches of the two sides.

Who do you think will come out on top on Sunday? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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