City fell to their first Premier League defeat at the Etihad this season and failed to score at home for the first time since 2010.The result was fair and Chelsea deserved the three points. For some more in depth thoughts, see below…
It’s fair to say that City were well beaten last night. There was a lot of talk before the game about how Chelsea would have to score, because at this point the probability of City scoring is approaching a mathematical certainty. Last night’s game turned out to be the exception which proves the rule as the Chelsea defence stood firm in front of an unusually wasteful City attack. Neither Negredo nor Dzeko were at the races as City paid the price for overstretching Aguero’s freshly healed injury in recent weeks. John Terry and Gary Cahill were excellent last night. Both are clearly enjoying their season playing under Mourinho.
It was a similar story in midfield. With Fernandinho missing Chelsea’s midfield was easily the more dynamic of the two. It was suggested before the game that the lack of Oscar might lead to Chelsea playing more defensively which simply was not the case. The speed and power with which they moved from defence to attack was breathtaking at times. When Willian, Ramires and Hazard took control it was difficult to wrest back.
The main take away is that the week leading up to the game had set this up to feel like a Champion’s League knockout game and that is what Mourinho set Chelsea up for. It is to City’s credit that even against the team which turned up last night they could have drawn or even won the game with better finishing and a more robust mental attitude. Of course, but for the width of the post Chelsea could have won by four or five, so there’s that to consider as well.
Chelsea’s Outstanding Players
Eden Hazard is an ominous young man. Time is a variable concept, dependent on how things move relative to you, and Hazard seems to create his own timeline. When he has his foot on the ball in front of a defender, holding them off with his eyes, he makes time stand still and you get the overwhelming sense that something bad is about to happen to your team. The back line City put out have been playing well this season and, Nastasic aside, are all highly experienced players. Hazard made them look small in a way that hasn’t happened this season since Bayern Munich arrived in town.
Willian was also hugely impressive. He imposed himself on the game from the first minute and never gave the City midfield time to take a breath. This was especially devastating last night against Martin Demichelis who, for all his talents, has many mistakes in him when rushed. It is difficult to think of a more Mourinho player than Willian and Chelsea were right to spend the money on him in the Summer.
Another player they were right to buy (again) was January arrival Nemanja Matic who was also excellent. He gave Toure a tougher fight than anyone else this season, anchoring the Chelsea side very well indeed. Ironically enough he is exactly the sort of player City need in the team to rotate into the team for games exactly like this one. Matic is also massive and scary, which is a bonus.
Ending on a positive note is always fun, so let’s do that. Jovetic showed exactly why Pellegrini first bought him and has since been so patient with his many, many injuries. From the moment he came on he looked an exciting, energetic player capable of beating his man, shooting, and linking with the rest of the team perfectly. It was so obvious that Jovetic is a step above most players (including Dzeko who was, again, poor) and he must surely start away at Norwich on Saturday. The team needs a player capable of inventing strange and unusual football geometry in the absence of Aguero, and Jovetic looks like a solution.
Navas again stepped up to the plate and was the outlet for the vast majority of City attacks. It is becoming quite the thrill to see him racing down the line, zooming in on the penalty area. He was a rare oasis of positive attacking intent in a team which was in danger of being swamped.
It was mentioned above, but it bears repeating; City were missing Aguero, Fernandinho and Nasri last night which would be to the detriment of any team. Mourinho exposed these vulnerabilities with the precise skill of a surgeon, but this will not be the case every week against more unexceptional opposition. Most weeks, City will be able to rotate in the second string players without the same consequences.
Finally, the upcoming run of Premier League fixtures is a kindness that should be embraced by Pellegrini’s men. Games against Norwich, Sunderland, Stoke, Aston Villa, Hull and Fulham offer an opportunity to re-establish the destructive momentum which has lately become synonymous with the team before back to back trips to Manchester United and Arsenal which have suddenly become much more important. Interspersed are two games against Barcelona and a further FA Cup clash with Chelsea which Sky will surely advertise in a similar way to a WWE grudge match. The pressure has suddenly increased for the next few months but City, and the fans, should be looking at this positively. Despite the loss, these are still incredible times.
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter