x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tactical Pellegrini up against result-oriented Mourinho

Clash of the two managers.

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have lot at stake on Sunday. EPA / Getty Images
Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have lot at stake on Sunday. EPA / Getty Images

The world of top-level management is small. There are always connections, rivalries to be renewed, old alliances to be shattered.

On Sunday, Stamford Bridge will host not merely a vital game in terms of the title race, as Chelsea face Manchester City, but also a clash of the last two managers of Real Madrid: Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho.

They may have a job in common in their past, but they share little else and it’s no great secret that their relationship is, at best, frosty.

Pellegrini had just one season in Madrid, joining them from Villarreal in 2009. That summer, perhaps rattled by Barcelona’s success in the Champions League, they spent enormous sums, signing Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema as part of a €230-million (Dh1.19 billion) spree (some of it recouped by offloading Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ruud van Nistelrooy).

The mission was simple: topple Barcelona. Pellegrini failed, and his cause wasn’t helped by a last-16 Champions League exit to Lyon. Pellegrini won what was at the time the highest points total ever achieved by Real Madrid, but still finished second in the league.

Many had sympathy, particularly given how it had seemed by the end Pellegrini was being undermined by forces within the club, but not his successor.

“Second place is just the first loser,” sneered Mourinho. Pellegrini was appointed coach of Malaga, which seemed to devalue him further in Mourinho’s eyes. “If Madrid were to fire me, I wouldn’t go to Malaga,” he said. “I’d go to a top-level team in Italy or England.”

As it turned out, when the money ran out at La Rosaleda, so did Pellegrini.

The Chilean has an old-world gentility that meant he never responded directly to Mourinho, but there is little doubt who he was referring to last year shortly before Malaga played Madrid when he said, “I don’t like coaches who are only interested in results. The concepts of spectacle and creativity and fundamental to me.”

Although Mourinho spoke this week of the “expectation” on City with their squad and the amount of money they have spent – a fairly transparent effort to apply psychological pressure, both refused to be drawn into any personal jousting.

“I can’t tell you what is in Mourinho’s mind,” Pellegrini said. “I can tell you I have a lot of chances to manage different clubs after Real Madrid and I have taken the decision of my life to go to Malaga. I am very happy.

“What happens with each manager, nobody knows where every manager wants to manage or where he wants to be. That is not a problem. What he said in that moment, I think answered him in that moment. I understand it was not a problem.

“We are very different, yes. I am not telling you I don’t like Jose. I am a different person, different style, not only football. I never get involved in the moment and I will not get involved now.”

Mourinho, as would be expected given the relative strength of the clubs in Spain, had the better of the head to head, winning four of the six meetings between Madrid and Malaga, including a 7-0, a 6-2 and a 4-0, with one draw and one victory for Pellegrini.

On Sunday, though, they meet with roughly equal resources. Chelsea, second in the table despite never quite convincing this season, are a point clear of City, who have combined generally excellent home performances with some shambolic displays away.

City’s defence has repeatedly slipped up this season – not helped by the continuing absence of Vincent Kompany with a thigh injury - but it hasn’t been helped by a lack of protection from the back of midfield.

Fernandinho and Yaya Toure both prefer the more advanced sitting role; neither is a natural holder and both instinctively break forwards.

Against weaker opposition, or opponents inclined to sit back, that is fairly easily regulated and gives City an additional attacking option; against better teams, and midfields as strong as Chelsea’s in particular, it is likely to leave City vulnerable, particularly with Sergio Aguero being played as a second striker and offering little in terms of defensive cover.

How Pellegrini adapts against an obviously strong midfield is the first real test of him in England as a tactician.

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