Monday 22 January 2018

Pellegrini's golden chance to silence Mourinho

'The Engineer' gathering the kind of momentum that could leave 'Special One' eating his words

Manuel Pellegrini has the chance to maintain Manchester City's superb title challenge when they take on Chelsea on Monday night
Manuel Pellegrini has the chance to maintain Manchester City's superb title challenge when they take on Chelsea on Monday night
James Lawton

James Lawton

If it is true that every man must face a degree of atonement, Jose Mourinho might be wise to scribble down a time and a place – the Etihad Stadium, next Monday night.

Manchester City's Manuel Pellegrini may be the unlikely wielder of a grudge, but we can be sure that as he rides a starburst of brilliance from his team – and 18 wins in an unbeaten run of 20 games – victory over Mourinho would bring a special sweetness.

Not only would it confirm City as the hard, and beautifully orchestrated, Premier League favourites, it would also free the 60-year-old Chilean from a rare burden which he has carried for three years now. It is that weight brought to an otherwise equable nature by the force of personal insult.

The 'Special One' delivered it in his inimitable fashion when, fresh from his second Champions League triumph at Internazionale, he moved into Pellegrini's recently vacated office at Real Madrid.

He sneered that he was unimpressed by his predecessor's finish three points behind La Liga champions Barcelona and a then-record points haul of 96. Finishing second, after all, was only to be the first among losers.

Mourinho, of course, didn't leave it there. He also derided Pellegrini's new assignment at Malaga, sniffing: "If Madrid fired me, I wouldn't go to Malaga. I'd go to a top-level team in Italy or England."

And so he did – only to find the man he categorised as a 'loser' casting a huge shadow over his latest empire-building back at Chelsea.

There is certainly no doubt that Pellegrini has stored up a sense of grievance. He was appalled by his rival's behaviour earlier this season when Fernando Torres snatched victory for Chelsea after late and catastrophic confusion between City goalkeeper Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic. In one respect Pellegrini was true to his natural instincts as a manager who, if still searching for his first major trophy in 10 years on this side of the Atlantic, has a record of impressive team-building at Villarreal, Malaga and now City.

When asked to criticise the then- embattled Hart, Pellegrini declared: "I do not talk about names, I talk about teams."

However, this philosophical aside was buried by the fact that he refused to shake hands with his conqueror and erstwhile critic. He also said that Mourinho's theatrics, including diving into the Stamford Bridge crowd, was something he had come to expect.

So, yes, one of the bullets Mourinho has to avoid at the Etihad is the one bearing the word 'revenge'.

Naturally, he has, with the dramatic rise in City's potency, been indulging in some bouts of damage control against the possibility of another City breakout on Monday night. One thrust is that Pellegrini could, given his resources, hardly fail this season.

Mourinho says: "The team with more responsibilities to win the league, because their squad is unique, is Manchester City. By this I mean the quality and profile of the players, the experience of the players and the medium age.

"They don't have old players or very young players. You see all of them, players of big maturity and experience – Aguero, Dzeko, Negredo, Jovetic, Toure, Fernandinho. Nobody more than 30. Nobody below 23.

"The squad is absolutely amazing. City are the team with more ammunition."

Who could argue? But then who would say that they are not now a force receiving the kind of guidance befitting a man long known within the game as 'The Engineer'?

Maybe only Roberto Mancini, who recently claimed that the club were now benefitting from the fruits of his labour. Even by Mancini's standards, it was a statement of extraordinary self-regard. Last season City were eclipsed by the United squad that has so dismayed new manager David Moyes.

The antipathy between manager and players was the game's worst kept secret. They were a rabble in Europe and their desperate underachievement at home was perfectly expressed by their FA Cup final defeat to relegated Wigan Athletic.

There have been many points of comparison this season, but the latest, the 5-1 victory at Tottenham on Wednesday night, was as graphic as any.

The sense of a united squad occupying an entirely different planet to the one inhabited last season by such smouldering malcontents as Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli could scarcely have been more profound.

Players and coach exchanged pleasantries when shifts were completed and the body language of the bench, which included the deadly Alvaro Negredo, spoke of a sharp absorption of all the relevant action.

It was, beyond the beauty and the penetration of City's play, still more compelling evidence that when the new club hierarchy chose Pellegrini to succeed Mancini they produced something which increasingly resembles a masterstroke.


Plainy they elected a man of both achievement and natural-authority.

A one-club central defender back in Chile – he made 451 appearances for Universidad de Chile – he was a manager of serial success in his home country, Ecuador and Argentina before joining Villarreal in 2004.

Mourinho might not have been impressed by Pellegrini's record in the little ceramics town near Valencia, where he was narrowly defeated by Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League semi-finals, but for those who put a value on stability in the modern game, he was not short of admirers.

After separating Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, he drew his Real assignment and then did impressive work in Malaga.

Significantly, he voiced one major regret when leaving the Bernabeu – and it was one that would come to haunt Mourinho soon enough. It was a reference to the difficulty of building a team in the Galactico culture.

City found out about this as the Mancini regime crumbled before their eyes. Monday night may be atonement time for Jose Mourinho, but Pellegrini will no doubt snack briefly on a likely triumph.

He is, we can be sure enough now, a man with a rather more substantial appetite. He wants to consume all of English football, just for starters of course.

Irish Independent

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