Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Monday November 26 2012
City's first major challenge for a while awaited them at Stamford Bridge, especially as Stretford's finest had managed to creep past QPR to return to the top of the league.
With Rafa Benitez neatly in situ in one of the most unusual managerial deals of the season, decade or millennium, a reaction was expected from Chelsea following their recent slumbers and at times, odd selections.
With the team line-ups seemingly designed to cancel each other out, it was perhaps a tribute to City that Benitez plotted out his side to concentrate on the threat that City would pose rather than anything spectacular. Looking at the sides though, which Chelsea players would you want? I've always been a fan of Mata, but not at the expense of anyone in maroon and whereas Hazard might have added something at the start of the season, I prefer the returning Silva as City's Orchestrator-in-Chief.
City looked the livelier of the 2 teams in the first half, where hardly anything happened from Chelsea's point of view and Cech being the busier of the two keepers. Zabaleta, Silva and Aguero all tested him and City should have been comfortably ahead at the break.
Milner had been restored at Nasri's expense to provide solidity and energy down the right. Kolarov in for the injured Clichy was to do the same down the left giving Mancini his three-at-the-back option. The rest of the team was reasonably predictable although Dzeko was preferred up top to Tevez, no doubt the intention being to disturb the vulnerable Luiz who was being "minded" by the thug formerly known as Ivanovic. Chelsea's two famous jersey-tuggers, would need to look lively today as the blind school in black overlooked their antics time and again.
The match had a distinct "game for Fergie" about it, what with Foy in the middle and Webb in the mouth of the tunnel. The pitchside microphone could almost pick up the instructions from the Red-nosed Knight especially when Torres lunged in ahead of half time and somehow escaped admonishment. In recent matches that type of so-called tackle has been a mandatory red card and would have been against a team from just outside Manchester, but alas, not against City. And then for good measure Chelsea get a free kick when VK clearly wins the ball. Where have we seen that before Mr Foy?
Despite the forward selection, City's best attacking outlet in the first forty-five was probably Zabaleta. If only he had the Argentine shooting boots of Tevez or Aguero, he would have had a bagful this season, with his almost undetected diagonal runs into the box.
The second half also featured more from City than Chelsea for the first fifteen minutes. Again City racked up the corners, but they came to nothing, when do they ever? City's play almost always results in an abundance of corners. You'd think they would have a plan A, plan B and plan Z so that they make something happen, you know, like they did in the penultimate home match last season. There are still too many men making the near post run and nobody lurking far post or picking out the run.
It took Chelsea more or less and hour to get going and then it was down to Torres seemingly incessantly looking for free kicks that you can only get if you get the ball in the first place. Torres is still hopelessly off-key, maybe Rafa will make a difference...but not if you read the ridiculous signs that have already appeared around the Stadium bearing the legend "Rafa Out". What is that about? Over the years City have had some ridiculous managers but the blue faithful stood by them no matter what. The truth is that Rafa organised this team today to avoid getting beat by City and effectively seeing themselves jettisoned from the title race, but at least they remain on the coat-tails of the teams from in and around Manchester.
It was a pretty uninspiring match where both teams might have settled for a draw at 1600h, but City should be kicking themselves because this match was there for the taking and they should have banked three points and returned to the top of the tree.
Chelsea definitely went to get out of their own door without losing, but for City it was a case of two points lost, and these could just easily tally up in May as much as Stretford's unlikely defeats have.
The plus points to take out of this were probably the return to form of Vincent Kompany, who was apparently injured and shouldn't have played. He looked masterful and really on top of his form, not that it is difficult these days to restrict Torres to any kind of shooting chance. Hart too made two excellent saves, but that was just about all he had to do.
Zabaleta remains an inspiration to us all and he continues to be the unheard of, bargain basement signing of forever at the Etihad. He would die for the sky blue shirt, or even a maroon one. No complaints from him if we play 3, 4 or 5 at the back, he just gets on with it. Maybe his tight marking cost him the odd run on his opponents, but if ever there is one man who will always do a job for his team, then Pablo is that man.
On this showing I don't see Chelsea upsetting operation Manchester and Stretford at the top of the league, unless they get knocked out of everything and re-take up the challenge. What we forget is the beautiful football they played was against easier teams. They had the gift start to the season compared to City and united and now that they are coming up against tougher opposition they are found wanting especially after the London-based fixture computer tried its best to give them a head start. It is more heads in their hands now!
On the other hand City remain unbeaten and this season it was not Chelsea who upset the applecart with a dodgy decision. Clearly the table-cloths will have City in their sights, but it is no good doing well against your peer teams and then losing at Norwich. No disrespect to the Canaries, but Stretford would have expected to get three points there. In fact I hear that a united fan called the travel agents last week and said that he was fed up with being cold and could he recommend a place to go on holiday. The travel agent asked "Which football team do you support?" "Man united" he replied. "You can't beat the Canaries this time of year" said the travel agent...Sorry!!!
A tricky trip to Wigan next. This is never an easy stopping-off point, but the Blues must look for all three on Wednesday. If City can negotiate three awkward tasks and remain unbeaten, then as I've said before, we are probably looking at the title come next May. And to top it all off City's poor defence has only conceded twice in seven matches. Ominous eh?
all times East Manchester
We 28 Nov 20h00 Wigan, DW Stadium, PL
Sa 01Dec 15h00 Everton, The Etihad, PL
Tu 04Dec 19h45 B Dortmund, Signal Iduna Park, CL
Su 09Dec 13h30 The rags, The Etihad, PL
Sa 15Dec 12h45 Newcastle, St James' Park, PL
Sa 22Dec 15h00 Reading, The Etihad, PL
We 26Dec 15h00 Sunderland, Stadium of Light, PL
Sa 29Dec 15h00 Norwich, Carrow Road, PL
Date:Monday November 26 2012
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