Mourinho in meltdown as City hint at upward path

Manchester City 1 - Chelsea 0
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The Independent Online

If you could kill off a high-profile coaching career by the sheer force of mockery Jose Mourinho would now, without a sliver of doubt, be back home in Portugal sleeping with the sardines. In the spring we saw him milking every drop of personal glory from his brilliant Champions' League triumph with Porto in Gelsenkirchen. Here, on a wet night in the north, the hubris pail ran mercilessly dry.

If you could kill off a high-profile coaching career by the sheer force of mockery Jose Mourinho would now, without a sliver of doubt, be back home in Portugal sleeping with the sardines. In the spring we saw him milking every drop of personal glory from his brilliant Champions' League triumph with Porto in Gelsenkirchen. Here, on a wet night in the north, the hubris pail ran mercilessly dry.

Every touchline gesture from Mourinho - most of them covered the full gamut from desperation to despair - was cruelly mimicked on the terraces. Of course a first defeat had to come - only Arsenal, surreally brilliant Arsenal, seem immune from such a fate - but the timing of this one, coming as it did in the company of reports that the plutocrats in the Stamford Bridge dressing-room have stopped each morning automatically thanking God for the Russian oilfields, was particularly gut-wrenching.

Arsenal's annihilation of Aston Villa demanded a powerful response from the team who are, with Manchester United feeling their way through transition, generally seen as the nearest thing to genuine contenders in the Premiership procession lining up behind Arsène Wenger's men.

What happened was much less than that. It was something worryingly close to tactical and psychological meltdown - and that was just Mourinho.

The coach's achievements do not need underlining here but then it is also true for anyone in the stadium that it was probably impossible to exaggerate the bankruptcy of his team's performance on the field or his own off it.

After Kevin Keegan's City had grown into a genuine fighting force who just about deserved victory, Mourinho said that he wouldn't be making excuses or criticising his players - then proceeded to do both, so copiously at times he seemed about to reach out for the Kleenex. After saying, "Life is reality and you have to accept that," and that he wouldn't cry, he blamed more or less everything on the half-logical decision of the referee, Howard Webb, to award City a penalty when Nicolas Anelka, with only goalkeeper Peter Cech to beat, was pushed down by Paulo Ferreira. Webb was only half-logical because if the penalty was a formality, so too should have been its automatic sequel... the dismissal of Ferreira.

Ferreira stayed, but to very little avail. Without the injured Didier Drogba and the injured or disputatious Adrian Mutu - take your pick on that one - Chelsea were dismayingly toothless but for the now standard aggression of Frank Lampard, who required David James to remind us of his enigmatic status as England's deposed No 1 with a couple of saves of the highest class.

Risibly, Mourinho complained that he lacked attacking options on the bench. Out on the field, however, he did have Eidur Gudjohnsen, Damien Duff and his Serbian protégé, Mateja Kezman. Mourinho is on record as saying, while turning his nose up at Wayne Rooney, that he preferred Kezman to the United prodigy because he could "do more things." This may turn out to be true, of course, but don't wager more than a plugged penny: or, on this showing, on Chelsea's ability to compete with Arsenal for at least another season.

Mourinho's mirthless reflections included that classic assertion that he would not be criticising his players - shortly before announcing that he had hauled them in for extra training yesterday morning. The message demanded only low-grade cryptography.

Any sense of hardship by Chelsea's players would surely dissolve, though, with a moment's reflection on the fate of City's Chinese utility player Sun Jihai, who was a huge reason for his team's impressively combative first-half showing. In the 43rd minute he was injured in an innocuous-looking collision with Gudjohnsen. He then uttered arguably the most poignant words of this infant season. "Give me two minutes," he pleaded when his damaged knee was inspected on the pitch.

Keegan, who will plead for an extension to Sun Jihai's contract, which runs out at the end of the season, reports that recovery will take at least a year after damage to mediate and cruciate ligaments. Keegan, whose emotions are never very far from the surface, can make the most rational of cases to his directors. Here was a player going to the very limit of his abilities against the richest team in England. Jettisoning him now would, you have to suspect, make a devastating statement about the priorities of Premiership football.

Discarding Keegan, which for a year or so has also been an obvious boardroom option, suddenly looks like a potentially counter-productive move. Beating Chelsea is an achievement that speaks largely for itself, but there was something about the performance which spoke of considerably more than one night's opportunism.

Sylvain Distin was a giant in defence, so capable that Keegan was inspired to a little mockery of his own, though it was commendably directed at himself. He said that City were becoming very mean in defence. He would have to do something about it.

Most impressive of all was the conviction that spread itself throughout the City team. Anelka supplied commitment along with his trademarked skill and pace. Shaun Wright-Phillips reminded us once again that they may not be a better-spirited or more effective attacking right-sided midfielder available for England, and this with a performance which his warmest admirers were describing as relatively subdued.

Keegan wondered, hopefully and quite understandably, if this was as much a rite of passage as one stirring victory. The City fans will no doubt soon enough be asking a similar question but maybe not before they have exhausted their impressions of Jose Mourinho at the workplace. Few can begrudge them their pleasure, perhaps not even Mourinho if he has an ounce of compassion - or the vaguest clue about how quite much they have suffered.

Goal: Anelka (pen 11) 1-0.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Distin, Dunne, Thatcher; Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt, Sibierski, Sun Jihai (McManaman, 43); Macken (Fowler, 88), Anelka. Substitutes not used: Waterreus (gk), Onuoha, Flood.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Ferreira, Terry, Carvalho (Geremi, 78), Gallas (Bridge, 45); Makelele; Tiago (J Cole, 64), Lampard, Duff; Kezman, Gudjohnsen. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Parker.

Referee: H Webb (Rotherham).

Booked: City: Mills. Chelsea: Ferreira, Lampard.

Man of the match: Distin.

Attendance: 45,047.

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