Chelsea v Manchester City – Verdict
City travelled to Stamford Bridge knowing a big performance was needed in order to keep their quest for Champions League football on track. A draw at the Emirates on Sunday felt a bit like two points dropped after City had twice allowed Arsenal to equalise. However, Chelsea would be a tougher challenge, as they’re seeking their 5th Premier League title.
The big talking point amongst City fans before kick off was the fact that club captain, Vincent Kompany, was back in the starting line up. His last appearance being the FA Cup win over Crystal Palace back at the end of January. Fabian Delph also made the starting XI for the first time in the league this season, and Jesus Navas continued to play at right-back as he had done against Arsenal.
City started in similar fashion to the Arsenal game; with slightly more pace and intention than we’ve seen in recent weeks. Chelsea allowed the visitors to have the ball for the opening 10 minutes or so. City were happy to play the possession game with a number of successive short passes, which took the ball all round the team and back to the goalkeeper in what’s become the usual fashion for the Blues under Pep Guardiola. In fact, City enjoyed 59% possession in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
Despite the possession stats, Chelsea got the first goal on 10 minutes, courtesy of Eden Hazard. Chelsea broke into the City half, the out to Hazard on the Chelsea right flank from Cesar Azpilicueta. It was poor defending again by City that allowed Hazard to carry the ball into the box and get the shot away. The marking by City was poor and neither Fernandinho, Clichy or Kompany closed Hazard down. The latter crouching to try and block the shot, perhaps blocking Willy Caballero’s view slightly and possibly getting a glancing touch on the ball as it went passed. Whether Kompany blocked Caballero’s view or not and if the City captain did get a touch on the ball it was minor; Caballero did get a hand to it himself but it was weak by his standards and he couldn’t keep it out the net. A disappointing goal to concede from City’s point of view if I’m honest. The defending or lack of leading up to this goal, not forgetting the other tame efforts that City have conceded this season, does beg the question as to how much time City spend working on defending in training; it’s clear that they work on passing and possession, but what about genuine defending?
The goal did wake City up a bit (unfortunately that’s been the case for most of the season really) and they started to push Chelsea, forcing saves from Courtois. Again, the possession stats continued to favour City, as they notched up 64% possession for the first 25 minutes, but so far they’d failed to make use of it. The breakthrough did come in the 26th minute though, a poor clearance from Courtois gave away possession deep in the Chelsea half, David Silva dribbled into the box from the left of City’s midfield and got a shot away at the near post. Courtois made the save from Silva’s effort, but the ball fell perfectly to Sergio Agüero who Coolly sidefooted it into the Chelsea net – much to the annoyance of the Chelsea faithful who were giving him the boo boy treatment all night.
City kept putting the pressure on Chelsea and there were signs of frustration amongst the Chelsea players; David Luiz received several talking-to’s from Gary Cahill and Diego Costa’s cynical thuggishness started to creep in. Costa should’ve been booked on 29 minutes when he twice pulled at Fabian Delph in plain sight of referee Mike Dean. The second pulled was more of a grapple to be honest and Delph was forced to the floor. Costa, in his usual manner, sat on he floor like a child as the referee gave City the free kick. There’s was a bit of unsportsmanlike behaviour from Costa to Delph which followed the free kick decision, but nothing that Mike Dean saw as significant.
City had been plying pressure on Chelsea, but weren’t able to take their chances. Chelsea were resolute and broke down City’s right flank. Following a through close to the City box, Pedro carried the ball into the penalty area before being needlessly tripped by Fernandinho. It was a silly challenge and Fernandinho should know better. Hazard stepped up to take the penalty; striking the ball quite tamely down to Willy Caballero’s left. The City Keeper made the save, but parried the ball back in front of Hazard who rushed in to knock in the rebound. Another soft goal to concede and it felt at the time that the City defenders could’ve done more to rush in following the penalty kick, perhaps Caballero should’ve directed the save away from goal better. It’s difficult to say really, but Glenn Hoddle and Steve McMannaman on BTSport seemed to think Caballero had “let City down here”… They gave no credit for the penalty save… Standard BT punditry.
At half time, there was reason for City to feel positive; they’d had the lion’s share of possession, forced a couple of good saves out of Courtois and the defensive partnership of Kompany and Stones were keeping Costa very quiet. The only problem was that they’d not had the edge to beat the Chelsea keeper.
City would have the majority of possession for the remainder of the game, but as the full time score shows, the Blues couldn’t capitalise on it. However, that’s not to say that City didn’t try, or that they were unlucky. Clearly Chelsea were concerned by what they’d seen from City in the first half, as Conte brought Nemanja Matic on for Kurt Zouma at half time. This felt as though it was an attempt to stop David Silva, who, like most games, had been City’s metronome in the first half.
The second half started with the same pace as the first. There were a few niggley challenges which began to creep into the game from both sides, though – and I’m not being biased – it was mostly from Chelsea. City were the first to have players booked though, with Gael Clichy and Fabian Delph picking up petty yellow cards. City did win a couple of free kicks from decent positions, in particular on their right flank in the Chelsea half; Kevin de Bruyne swung the ball in high to Vincent Kompany at the far post. The City captain’s header grazed the top of the cross bar. What a return it would’ve been for him, had it gone in.
If you’ve read our verdicts on City’s previous few games, you’ll recall that Kevin de Bruyne has been subject to criticism for his displays recently. His performance was much better against Chelsea, but still short of the high standard he’d set last season. He seemed to get in David Silva’s way on occasions, with his diagonal runs, and his off the ball work needs more effort. De Bruyne was taken off and Raheem Sterling brought on, arguably this should’ve been done sooner than the 79th minute, but Guardiola does tend to leave his substitutions late anyway, so we’ll just have to get used to it. Fernandinho wasn’t having the greatest of games by his own standards either and he’d have been my choice for a substitution too, perhaps Yaya Toure could’ve given Chelsea something too think about.
Vincent Kompany marked his return to Premier League action by picking up a yellow card for a challenge of Diego Costa. The challenge itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but it was Costa’s reaction to Kompany that was; the Chelsea striker appeared to put his studs into Kompany’s knee right infront of the referee, Mike Dean. Lesser actions have been given as straight red cards this season in other games and, as I’ve mentioned, Costa should have been booked already for pulling down Fabian Delph in the first half. However, Mike Dean didn’t see it as a foul and nothing was given. The incident made the papers, but the Premier League have since confirmed in a statement that Costa will receive no further punishment for the incident, because Mike Dean had seen it. Which begs the question, if he saw it? Why didn’t he take any action?
At times during the game, it felt like ‘The Mike Dean Show’, as has so often been the case in the last 18 months. I actually once considered Mike Dean the best referee in the league, particularly for his handling of Manchester United vs Manchester City in the 2010 League Cup Semi-final, but he’s certainly a referee in decline. This was a particularly poor performance by the official, he was inconsistent and appeared to be influenced by the crowd. However, he is not to blame for the result of the match.
N’Golo Kante, arguably the buy of the summer, did pick up Chelsea’s solitary yellow card late on, but this could actually have been his third or fourth yellow of the game. He’d made a few cynical tackles, similar to his performance against Manchester United in the FA Cup. It felt like Mike Dean booked him just to seem fair, as the challenge that brought the booking wasn’t the worst of the evening.
A compliment to City is the fact that Chelsea saw fit to revert to their turgid brand of football, typical of the Mourinho days, but also synonymous with the stereotypical Italian tactics that Conte has perfected over the years. The idea to have the midfield halt David Silva and starve Sergio Aguero, worked perfectly; Conte’s tactical acumen and coaching abilities should not be underestimated. His ability to get Gary Cahill, who was skipper for the night, to command the Chelsea defence and midfield, as well as allowing Eden Hazard the freedom to express himself, showed a world class level of game management. This understanding of the game appeared to be lost upon Glenn Hoddle & Steve McMannaman, too as they were asking each other why – but neither could seem to comprehend how – Sergio Aguero had ‘gone quiet’ in the second half; equally, they were also bewildered as to how Eden Hazard was playing through the middle and Pedro hugging the by-line. A reflection of the inept level of footballing comprehension that was required to be an England manager and midfielder during the 1990’s – we’ve still a long way to go if we’re ever gonna catch up to Spain, Germany
Pep has said that he was pleased with City’s performance against Chelsea, and that he would not be happy if the team put in another performance like the one against Arsenal – where he said they’d forgot to play. City can take many positives from the game against Chelsea, Kompany is back, Delph was superb and providing he stays fit, could offer something different in the midfield for Pep, even if it’s just the opportunity to give Fernandinho a rest. It has to be said that despite Fernandinho’s relatively poor performance against Chelsea, he and Delph worked well together and Delph’s presence and link up with the City defence gave Fernandinho the opportunity to play a more free flowing/forward role. Guardiola was also evidently impressed with Delph’s performance too, as he praised the Yorkshireman in the post-match press conference, even going as far as to say that he owes Delph an apology and that the midfielder has shown him that he was “wrong” not to play him.
City face Hull at home this weekend and they’ll be hoping to avoid any banana skins. Guardiola can take heart from the encouraging displays City showed in the last two games, despite his comments regarding the performance against Arsenal. The remaining fixtures look relatively kind for City in regards to ensuring they’ve got Champions League football next season, but anything can happen in football, and it wouldn’t be City if they did things the easy way!