Manchester City Injuries Haunt Manuel Pellegrini for FA Cup Visit of Chelsea

Jonathan WilsonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini looks on before the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Manchester City at Carrow Road on February 8, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The good news for Manchester City is that Yaya Toure will be available to face Chelsea on Saturday, having somehow escaped sanction for kicking out at Wes Hoolahan.

So they will have one of their first-choice central midfield pairing available. The continuing absence of the other, Fernandinho, is a major blow, but it does perhaps clarify the issue for Manuel Pellegrini.

Before the meeting in the league last Monday, Pellegrini must have looked at the way his side was playing, steamrollering opponents, and decided that it made no sense to alter that, despite the obvious robustness of Chelsea's midfield.

He is a manager who, so far, at City, has favoured the attacking side of any debate and, all else being equal, the decision could hardly be questioned.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea is marshalled by Martin Demichelis of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on February 3, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (P
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

But all else wasn't equal. Fernandinho was injured and so City were robbed of half of that partnership that is essentially the paragon of a modern two-man centre: two players who are both powerful and energetic, both good on the ball, both capable of winning the ball back, both precise in their passing and both blessed with powerful shots.

Even better, they complement each other, Toure roaming, always looking to surge forwards, while Fernandinho is more disciplined, happy to sit back and fill space while his partner rampages.

For the league game against Chelsea, Pellegrini presumably reasoned that Demichelis's natural defensive instincts would provide a platform at the back of midfield for Toure, but his lack of mobility—and thus, at times, Toure's lack of discipline—was exposed.

Although City dominated possession, Chelsea dominated the game, rarely looking in defensive danger themselves while always threatening on the break.

Only once in the league this season had Pellegrini deployed a three-man central midfield—away at Chelsea—but unless he believes that James Milner can fill in for Fernandinho, that surely is how he'll play on Saturday.

Possible Man City XI vs. Chelsea
Possible Man City XI vs. ChelseaTighe B/R

Playing with Edin Dzeko and a half-fit Alvaro Negredo made City look one-dimensional too often resorting to the sort of direct play that defenders in the mould of John Terry and Gary Cahill gobble up.

Pellegrini could use David Silva more centrally off a front man but, with Samir Nasri still a major injury doubt, that leaves a shortfall on the left. Stevan Jovetic could play there, but that seems a needless over-complication that wouldn't necessarily bolster the centre of the field.

There is, though, a slight issue with personnel, with Javi Garcia probably still injured, and that means either Demichelis starting alongside Milner at the back of midfield with Toure just in front of them, or a recall for Jack Rodwell, who hasn't played since being taken off at halftime in City's 4-2 victory over Watford in the FA Cup.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  David Silva of Manchester City crosses the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Manchester City  at Carrow Road on February 8, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Imag
Tony Marshall/Getty Images

It's not just about the formation, though: there also needs to be a change of mentality. City have become used to swarming over opponents, particularly at home, but they must play with greater discipline against a side as good at playing on the counter-attack as Chelsea. 

After 27 minutes on the league meeting, Chelsea had a four-on-two break, stunning evidence both of their pace playing on the break and of the collapse of City's defensive system. That means the full-backs playing with great reserve, something that probably applies particularly to Pablo Zabaleta, if only because Aleksandar Kolarov's overlapping surges on the left are necessary to get the best out of David Silva, who naturally drifts infield. 

But then there's the issue of what Chelsea do: did Jose Mourinho always intend to play 4-2-3-1 in the league game, or did he switch from 4-3-3, advancing Ramires and moving Willian centrally, when it emerged that Fernanidnho was missing?

City's biggest problem is that even if they can strengthen the centre, Mourinho has an immediate counter-move he can make that would again give Chelsea the advantage in that area.