Chicago is supposed to be the Windy City, but on Wednesday night it was Manchester making a serious bid for the nickname.
The high winds that forced Manchester City’s clash with Sunderland to be postponed―and made their way to Merseyside and did for Everton v Crystal Palace as well (pity those Palace fans who travelled up from London, and indeed the Everton fan who came from Malaysia)―might not have seemed like it at the time for the grumpy supporters who had hoped to see a game of football, and indeed the players who’d hoped to play in one, but they could prove advantageous for City.
It is hard to deny that back-to-back goalless games against Chelsea and more damagingly at Norwich have suddenly stalled progress under Manuel Pellegrini. Doubts are beginning to appear where there were no doubts before.
The once-heralded City squad looks a lot thinner without the availability of the injured Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and Samir Nasri, with the presence of Martin Demichelis in the centre of midfield hardly reassuring anyone. Elsewhere, Arsenal might remain unconvincing, but Chelsea have got their game faces on and the rejuvenated Liverpool are racing forward like a train, too.
Those Chelsea game faces weren’t enough to beat West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday night though, and the late concession of Victor Anichebe’s goal at The Hawthorns―plus the extra energy that Chelsea exerted in the Midlands―might now prove to be a huge moment in the season.
Saturday’s second meeting with Chelsea inside two weeks is in the FA Cup, of course, but its impact on the Premier League title race cannot be overlooked either.
His side’s presence in the Capital One Cup final in a couple of weeks makes that competition an obvious priority for Pellegrini, and he’s got Barcelona on his Champions League horizons too, but having perhaps been previously not too bothered about England’s oldest and most traditional cup competition, he now has a chance to make a huge statement in it.
Chelsea will arrive at the Etihad Stadium bruised from that West Brom setback, whilst half of the defence that so impressed in the 1-0 win at City earlier this month could be missing. Gary Cahill is definitely out after limping away from The Hawthorns, whilst John Terry has missed the last two games and has to be considered doubtful.
In the other, lighter blue corner, Nasri could be returning from injury at a perfect time, whilst the less-heralded comebacks of Matija Nastasic and Javi Garcia will suddenly increase the depth of the squad somewhat, however damaging that might be to Demichelis.
Fernandinho and Aguero are on the road to recovery ahead of Barcelona next week, too, with the gigantic nature of that match perhaps only becoming apparent after City are done with this one.
Talk of Lionel Messi and company should be banned at the Etihad until Vincent Kompany and company have gained a measure of revenge over Chelsea and delivered a bloody nose to their talkative manager.
Having been bitten twice by Jose Mourinho already this season―once with that fortunate Fernando Torres goal in the final minute at Stamford Bridge in October, and then again with that fantastic team performance in Manchester 10 days ago―Pellegrini will be desperate to get one over on a man and a manager that you suspect he doesn’t like very much. In making the City manager the latest target of his psychological warfare (BBC), it seems that the feeling is mutual on Mourinho’s side, too.
The Chilean target of his ire has been presented with a glorious chance to make a point in the FA Cup, as everything, including the weather, seems to be in City’s favour.
Now his team need to make the most of these advantages, and ensure that it is Chelsea who are the ones entering a storm on Saturday.
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