Is this season a failure for both clubs, after their disappointing, to be delicate, performances in the Champions League? Not yet, not with the Premier League title still in sight. Manchester City are a different beast in England, while Chelsea are in a more fragile state, with a new manager joining in without a lot of time to test out the murky waters.
Rafa Benitez, back in the headlines. For some, it was only a matter of time before Roberto Di Matteo got the boot. Roman Abramovich never wanted him to stay too long, but he couldn’t really fire him after he won him the Champions League. So he waited for everything to fall apart – the problematic midfield, the promise to give Fernando Torres a spot linked to the goalpost in the starting lineup, the leaky defense, before he fired him for a bigger name, who was fired from his previous job because he opened his mouth against the owner.
Manchester City simply lowered their heads after failing to win another Champions League match, finding it funny and fortunate that Chelsea simply draw more attention. Roberto Mancini is now given a simple scenario – win the Premier League, and maybe you’ll keep your job. Can’t put it any other way.
In terms of style and strengths, Manchester City are the favorites. A solid team that hardly shines but enjoys a strong defense and plenty of options up front, with Sergio Aguero, scoring five goals over the last five matches in all competitions, Carlos Tevez (6 league goals this season) and super-sub Edin Dzeko, also scoring six goals this season.
For Chelsea, it’ll be about the ability of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata to break free from a watchful eye of whoever Mancini fields in the middle of the park. Fernando Torres is reunited with the man who brought him to England and is partially responsible for the best seasons in his career, but it’s going to take more than just Benitez’ touch to shake Torres out of the dormant form he has slipped into again. It’ll take his own battles with himself and his fragile confidence, and if not, it’ll have to be Hazard and Mata’s passing that do the trick.
It’ll be about Chelsea’s midfield doing more than is usually does. John Obi Mikel will partner up with someone, and that someone has to be able to make the most of the opportunity. Chelsea have plenty of flair up front, but lack a lot of substance behind that. Maybe it means Oscar will be a lot more cautious with his moves forward, or maybe it simply means a change in the formation with Benitez bringing over the 4-2-3-1 from his Liverpool days.
Whatever it is, for both managers, six and two points away from current league leaders Manchester United, the changes and tweaks need to be coming in fast. The people upstairs aren’t patient men.