Manchester City vs Chelsea comment: James Milner leads City's blue-collar workers to defy Jose Mourinho

Milner set up Frank Lampard's late equaliser

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The Independent Online

He is the manager Manchester City would never want; not even if they and he found themselves in mutual need of a partner. Jose Mourinho is too much of an egoist for them. If he won silverware, they would think it would be about him, not them. If they struggled, it would be about them, not him. His barbed attack on Manuel Pellegrini on Sunday night – deploying his usual trick of getting the name of the City manager wrong by calling him “Mr Pellegrino”  – reinforced the club’s suspicions about the unwelcome noise they think he creates.

It looked as if Mourinho was going to demonstrate the enduring attraction of his loud personality today until Frank Lampard stepped up to claim the headlines.

The pleasure that Pellegrini was able to take from City’s comeback to draw was greater than that derived from seeing an adversary he abhors being reminded of his folly in letting Chelsea’s greatest player go.

Pellegrini entered this game facing the prospect of an eight-point gulf opening between his own side and Mourinho’s and left it having delivered the stamp of his own pragmatism. The Chilean was the man who suggested last season that City, rather than Chelsea, deserved to win the Premier League title because “the most attractive football, the more goals you can score, should be rewarded”.

Yet his tactics for this game revealed there is more to his philosophy than that. City showed a blue-collar way of holding Chelsea in check. It was Fernandinho, James Milner, Vincent Kompany and the debutante Eliaquim Mangala to whom they owed their point.

 

It was always destined to be a task requiring more muscle from Chelsea than the last time they played here in the league. Fernandinho was injured in the warm-up when the sides met in February and that proved decisive to the visitors winning the midfield battle, as they overran City at times in a 1-0 victory.

This time the Brazilian played, treading a fine line between triumph and disaster in the first half. He had already been booked when he dragged back Willian as the Chelsea man drove through City’s midfield. He stayed on the pitch, though, and added the same ballast he had at Munich last week in a performance against Bayern which Gary Neville summed up as one of a man being asked to do the job of two men.

It was Yaya Touré who had created that workload for him in Germany, though in this game the Ivorian showed more of the tenacious side to his game  we are accustomed to seeing. It was Milner, though, who shored up the flank which Chelsea’s Eden Hazard would have expected to dominate. Hazard was silenced; dragged back down City’s right flank to quell the Englishman’s threat.

Milner was the game’s outstanding player, ending the match as a utility left-back from where he managed to supply the equaliser – his attempts to rescue a lost ball turning into a volleyed cross for Lampard to score.

And if the stage had been set for Chelsea’s Diego Costa, then it was Vincent Kompany who commanded that particular battle. One moment from the first half, back in City’s half, tells that story. Kompany and Costa grappled with each other for fully 20 seconds – first Kompany, then Costa seeming to have wrested the ball away from the other; upper body strength more than feet appearing to be essential to the contest. Costa emerged with the ball, but Kompany went right back in and wrenched it back.

City-3.jpg Mangala, who City paid £40m for, had been absent from Pellegrini’s plans until Sunday. Yet his combination play at the heart of City’s defence with Kompany was steady and the Frenchman also looked strong moving forward in possession.

They were not the only ones who dominated a defensive exhibition. The stand-out performers of the first half were Gary Cahill and John Terry, though Chelsea lacked ambition. They did not want to seize on the excellent start to the season Costa has created for them.

The Brazilian was certainly the more threatening of the two sides’ attacking spearheads. Sergio Aguero, being managed through the early part of the season with a maximum 90 minutes’ football a week, was not a threat, while Costa’s aggression made things happen for him.

The infringement that led to Pablo Zabaleta’s dismissal would have gone almost unnoticed, had Costa not responded to it in that explosive fashion of his. The striker was at the hub of the goal which followed soon after and he also hit the post.

But it felt like Pellegrini’s day. Narrow margins dictate the course of the game but he could reflect on Lampard’s role in the draw and Chelsea’s lack of ambition. “Mr Pellegrino, instead of speaking about my players should speak about Lampard,” Mourinho snapped. But Pellegrini’s players had spoken for him.

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