The problem with minimalistic tactics is that they eventually reach its maximum end. There is only so far one can go with such limiting considerations. The game is about glory, and the definition of glory is as wide as the imagination
As such, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea met this end on Saturday as they were defeated by Manchester City in the FA Cup. That defeat also showed the thin line upon which football managers tread. Whereas a few weeks ago he was being hailed as a tactical genius, the same tactic now rendered him a failure.
No manager has been hailed so much in the recent past for the ability to constantly get results than Jose Mourinho. But when your philosophy is that results are all that matter, then it ironically spirals against you when you eventually don’t get the result.
Mourinho’s fault however was simply in the fact that lightning failed to strike twice. While up against the dynamic movement and sheer attacking threat that City poses, Mourinho had seemingly worked out a way to stifle. This time however, it was he that got startled.
For City were at their illuminating best. The movement ecstatic, the passes telepathic and the attacking electric. It almost seemed as if the puzzle had now become so cryptic that it required a different enigma to solve it.
Oddly, this seems to be the same situation Mourinho found himself in while at Real Madrid. During those few days in 2011 where circumstances contrived to bring about so many clasico’s against Barcelona in so few a number of days, Mourinho scaled the heights of genius and defeatist.
Having worked out that minimalistic tactic, he managed to stifle Barcelona as a League draw at the Bernabeu was followed by a Copa Del Rey final win. But when the two met in the Champions League semi-final, Mourinho’s tactic diminished as Barcelona’s abilities rose.
It seemed to be the same on Saturday. The attacking nature of City became so grand that Chelsea now could no longer hold their tightly organised defensive structure.
Illuminating the brightest was David Silva, whose every touch almost seemed heavenly. His twinkling feet and balletic guise allowed him to glide across the pitch and guide the ball through the tightest of spaces. His performance so dragged and shifted the Chelsea players about and around that there was seemingly no way to stop him.
In the end, it was the goals from Stefan Jovetic and Samir Nasri that decided the tie. It was great to see Jovetic use his energy to good effect and try to apply his talents on so high a stage. The Montenegrin may have been starved of game time due to his injuries, but while he did not perform to the same standard, he did show why he is theoretically Sergio Aguero’s replacement.
But for all the credit that City deserve, it should also not be forgotten just how poor Chelsea were. Ramires and David Luiz in particular were error prone, while their golden boy Eden Hazard failed to produce the sort of spark he has carried with him of late.
It probably showed the limitations brought about by the setup that required them to concentrate and contain. That constant overthinking eventually tires the body and the mind.
In contrast, City were expressive, and that is exactly how Manuel Pellegrini expects them to be. That expression has seen an explosion of goals throughout their season. Ultimately though, it seemed as if that expression had met its end weeks ago when they failed to penetrate first Chelsea, then Norwich City.
All those fine margins were illustrated and as such, it is the result that always seems the perfect justification for either approach. On Saturday thus, it was City’s approach that proved rewarding.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald