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Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini (R) shouts instructions as Chelsea Manager Carlo Ancelotti looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea.
Clive Rose Staff
Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini (R) shouts instructions as Chelsea Manager Carlo Ancelotti looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea.

Mancini's guile beats rival's style

As Chelsea are shut down for the first time this season, Rob Shepherd analyses how City have responded to great expectations.

It was one for students of Roman classics as Catenaccio overcame La Dolce Vita. Roberto Mancini and Carlo Ancelotti both stalked the touchline, dressed head-to-toe in black that made them look like brothers of a certain Italian fraternal club. As players, their paths did indeed cross with Mancini at Bologna and Sampdoria, Ancelotti at Roma and AC Milan. They also played together a few times for the Italian national team.

Their approaches were very different. Ancelotti was a precise, cautious midfield player who was brought up in an era when the deeply defensive counter attacking style of the Catenaccio system - originally made famous by Helenio Herrera's Inter Milan side of the 1960s - prevailed. Mancini was much more of a free spirit, a playmaker who challenged conventional wisdom in Italy by showing that style could combine with substance.

The roles have reversed now that both have moved into management. Mancini is now more the artisan, Ancelotti the artist. When he arrived at City 10 months ago, Mancini disguised the fact, sporting a flamboyant flowing hairstyle and retro scarf. And there were times when his team did turn on the style, most notably when they beat Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge last season. But falling just short of Champions League football and the pressure of expectation from owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, who has pumped so much money into the club, has obviously sharpened Mancini's focus.

This season the hair is short and the scarf has gone. Lavish summer spending has been as much about solidifying the team's midfield and defence as adding flair players in attacking positions. That was evident at Eastlands yesterday as City chiselled this victory out of granite rather than carving it from marble. Carlos Tevez, who eventually proved the matchwinner, was not so much a lone striker but one left in solitary confinement, especially in the first half.

David Silva, the Spanish winger signed from Valencia, was meant to offer close support but his priority was to track back, while the rest of the front six were effectively holding midfielders. When James Milner or Yaya Toure did move forward they did so with reluctance. But the plan gradually worked. Chelsea's midfield trio of Obi John Mikel, Michael Essien and Ramires - who have been so forceful so far this season - were worn down. Meanwhile, City's back four played with resolution and immense concentration.

Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany, the centre-back pairing, did not allow Didier Drogba or Nicolas Anelka any space or time, while Dedryck Boyata, 19, the young Belgian right-back who came up through the Academy ranks and cost nothing, did superbly to overcome the threat of Florent Malouda on the left. City pressed all over the pitch yet never resorted to the sinister side of the game associated with Catenaccio.

That it was Tevez who led by example from the front was further vindication for Mancini's mantra. Tevez, who was not happy when Mancini replaced Mark Hughes last year, has since been critical of the manager's tactics and training methods. But Mancini has cleverly given Tevez the captaincy and the Argentine certainly offered respect to his manager yesterday, sacrificing natural aspects of his game for the team.

Tevez never let the Chelsea back four settle. Then, when an opening came his way, he delivered superbly. After Milner had disposed Ramires and Yaya Toure nudged the ball to Tevez's feet in the centre circle, the all-action Argentine sensed the space around him and went for the kill. As John Terry and Ashley Cole backed off Tevez strode forward then whipped a low shot past Petr Cech from the edge of the area and inside the far post.

Once ahead City shut the game down impressively. Chelsea, their wings ruthlessly clipped, just could not raise theirs. Maybe the ease of Chelsea's opening five games - scoring 21 times - did mean they went into this match undercooked. Certainly next week's meeting against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge takes on even greater significance at this early stage of the title race. Those who had already written City off look foolish.

Their approach in games like this will not impress every observer; then again it is a style that Chelsea embraced in the early days of their particular blue revolution. On that front Chelsea and the rest of the title pack must be warned - in Mancini, maybe, City might just have found the new Jose Mourinho. sports@thenational.ae

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