Ian Herbert: Mancini's toilers plough path to promised land
Sunday 26 September 2010
There is nothing in the two managers' pasts that says Manchester City should be the earthier of the sides. Roberto Mancini was born near the Adriatic coast and loves the sea; Carlo Ancelotti in the rural area of Reggiolo and lives for the country. Mancini sails his 35-metre, £4 million yacht on Sardinian holidays; Ancelotti still loves to drive a tractor. But it was the willingness of Manchester City's so-called mercenaries to put in a hard day's work out on the field which made them the victors in the billionaires' playground.
Carlos Tevez's workrate telegraphs itself so clearly. To clarify, the ball was actually still inside his own half of the field when he began running at Ashley Cole, gathering pace before clipping his 25th goal in 29 games past Petr Cech, who seemed to think the ball which clipped the inside of his right-hand post was sailing the other side of the upright. But just in sight on the replays of the move was James Milner, timing the tackle on Ramires which freed the ball he released short to Yaya Touré and Touré then to Tevez.
Here was the story of City's day: the harrying and the pressing which Mancini's players will perform in their sleep after the hours of shadow play which he puts them through all week at Carrington – chasing after the imaginary players they will face on Saturday.
Milner's tackle was the most significant, springing one of the counterattacks which is such an important part of the plot on days like this and creating the single moment of genius which will divide teams. But Vincent Kompany, poking away a ball from Didier Drogba's toe as he was played in 10 minutes after Tevez had scored, wasn't far behind in order of significant interventions. So many players contributed in this way that no one could quite decide who was supreme. Kompany's name flashed up in the stadium as man of the match. Nigel de Jong walked out of the stadium with the bubbly. And the role of Gareth Barry, as so often for a player who gives such labour in such an unlaboured way, was rather overlooked when he, if anything, was the first among equals. Organising, advancing, retreating, Barry's distance run is extraordinary.
Though these players were captains all, the one whose outlook in the past few months has been most at variance with the mercenary tag is the one who has been unceremoniously stripped of that title. Kolo Touré is one of those many remnants ofthe Mark Hughes era who had cause to fear for his future when the season came around and Jérôme Boateng arrived through the door, though his game has actually picked up in the past six weeks.
It was Touré who twice cleared up after Dedryck Boyata, the young defender in whom Mancini has immense confidence but whose hack at Drogba might have conceded a penalty, looked overwhelmed. An immaculate interception when John Obi Mikel seemed to have bisected City's central defence with a ball through to Florent Malouda, minutes after half-time, was another of those unlaboured, game-saving moments.
Ancelotti would have known what he would be encountering in his old friend Mancini's side because yesterday's resilience was no surprise. City have still conceded only two goals in the Premier League this season, one of which was a Sunderland penalty, the other a mix-up between Joe Hart and Kolo Touré. The surprise was that Chelsea could not match muscle with muscle as they generally do when confronted with that kind of presence.
"We wanted to play better but didn't play how we wanted. We lost a lot of tackles and were not able to play football in the opponents' half," lamented Ancelotti. But Chelsea's play was individualistic, where City were a collective. "The pressure was always on the Chelsea attack from the first minute on. It was the total package of the whole team defending from the front to the back," was De Jong's very accurate summation of what had gone on outside.
Mancini and Ancelotti now have eight wins each against each other in club football, though Mancini reiterated his belief that Ancelotti will be ahead when the big prize is handed out come May.
"They're still the best in the Premier League," he said.But this display had suggested that while these managers comefrom different worlds, the clubs may be heading towards the same place.
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