Man City vs Chelsea: Mauricio Pochettino has a rare chance to deny old rival Pep Guardiola in FA Cup

Man City vs Chelsea: Mauricio Pochettino has a rare chance to deny old rival Pep Guardiola in FA Cup

There is no manager Mauricio Pochettino has faced more frequently in his career than Pep Guardiola, and Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Manchester City will bring up 25 meetings between the old rivals.

Pochettino has always relished their comings together but rarely finished on top; he has won just four matches against the Catalan and lost 13, although his victories include Espanyol's memorable 2009 scalp over Guardiola's legendary Barcelona and Tottenham's win over City in the Champions League five years ago.

Both men are among the city of Barcelona's favourite sons, albeit from different sides of the aisle, but, although he has never said as much, Pochettino must feel that his rivalry with Guardiola has never been on an even footing.

When Guardiola was sweeping the board with his treble-winning Barca team, Pochettino was taking his first steps in management with Espnayol Women's side.

When Pochettino went to Southampton to make his name in English football, Guardiola was in charge of another of Europe's super-clubs in Bayern Munich.

And while Guardiola's first top job in the Premier League was with state-backed City, where no expense was spared, Pochettino was building up a Spurs side on a shoestring as the club's resources were funnelled towards a stadium build.

Now, Pochettino is finally in charge of one of the Premier League's most successful clubs, with the history and resources to match City, but Chelsea are engaged in a long-term project, which is unlikely to come together in time to challenge Guardiola's City, with next season expected to be the Catalan's last in England.

If Pochettino may not get the chance to test himself against Guardiola over the course of a Premier League title race, he can still beat him in one-off matches, and Chelsea will go into the game at Wembley as rank outsiders but with reasons for confidence.

They have taken points from City home and away this season, including a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge, and there is a case that Pochettino's Chelsea are better-suited to playing good sides, particularly when they are afforded space in the final third.

Monday's 6-0 win over Everton was easily their best performance under Pochettino, producing a rare clean sheet underlining their attacking threat -- although it was marred by Noni Madueke and Nicolas Jackson attempting to wrestle a penalty from Cole Palmer, who scored four times.

Palmer, a lifelong Manchester United supporter who was frustrated at his lack of opportunities at City, will need no extra motivation against his former club, and increasingly feels the type of big-game player who can be expected to deliver on these occasions.

Palmer has proven a revelation for Chelsea since joining from Manchester City (Getty Images)
Palmer has proven a revelation for Chelsea since joining from Manchester City (Getty Images)

The 21-year-old has been a remarkable ray of a light in a gloomy season for Chelsea but lifting the FA Cup, and securing European football next term, would save a difficult campaign for Pochettino and leave the manager in a position of strength going into a crucial summer.

It is City, however, who are under the greater pressure, and needing a response to their Champions League elimination by Real Madrid on Wednesday, which ended their hopes of an unprecedented double-treble.

City are two points clear at the top of the table with six games to play but even if they become the first English club to win four successive titles, their season might feel a touch underwhelming if the League is their only silverware at the end of it, such are the remarkable standards set by Guardiola's side.

Chelsea, though, are returning to the scene of their biggest humiliation this season, the 1-0 defeat to an injured-ravaged Liverpool in the Carabao Cup Final in February and Pochettino must ensure their last visit to Wembley and Gary Neville's "blue billion-pound bottle jobs" jibe does not hang over his young team.

Chelsea have shown an aptitude for implosion and drama, best demonstrated by the penalty-spot scrap on Monday, and Pochettino faces a decision over whether to drop Madueke and Jackson, with Raheem Sterling pushing for a return against his former club.