Friday, October 12, 2012
Those who know me will be aware that I really don’t like Chelsea. I don’t like their crowing fans, I don’t like the fact that they have financial resources that City could only dream off, and I really, really don’t like their smug on-pitch announcer.
Given that, it’s extremely painful for me to admit that they played some absolutely sublime football on Saturday, although it would be churlish to suggest otherwise.
Having gone behind early to a superbly-worked goal they simply upped their game and by half-time had pretty much done the job. Unlike the Liverpool game this wasn’t self inflicted injury on City’s part, although the crucial third, whilst brilliantly executed, resulted from a poor decision in the Chelsea half. Take a risk against this side and the punishment is swift and lethal.
There was a very strange atmosphere among the City faithful at Stamford Bridge. No one I spoke to seemed to have any real belief that City could get a result, and it was noticeable that a sense of acceptance seemed to settle over our end of the ground once the third Chelsea goal went in. Perhaps the barren run of results is taking its toll.
Paul Lambert always made the point last season that for City to compete with the very top sides it was necessary for the Canaries to be at the top of their game and the opposition to be off theirs. Unfortunately there was no chance of that from a Chelsea side which is revelling in being champions of Europe and League leaders.
While it could be argued that City were more competitive at Stamford Bridge last year, that was against the Chelsea of Andre Villa Boas, which was a misfiring Reliant Robin compared to the purring Ferrari of Roberto Di Matteo.
On the Tube back to Kings Cross opinions were mixed, but the general consensus was that the end result could have been much worse, and that City’s stoicism in the face of a side who were vastly superior was in stark contrast to the tame capitulation to Liverpool. Small comfort perhaps, but this was a performance which showed that there is still plenty of fight in the squad.
It’s also worth stressing that this wasn’t a game that City approached negatively, although I have seen that suggested.
The fact that Wes Hoolahan started the game with a free role shows that Chris Hughton went with attacking intent, but Chelsea’s midfield dominance constantly pushed City back to the point where Grant Holt was totally isolated. There is a difference between setting out to defend and being forced to do so.
Interestingly, I spoke to Chelsea fans who complimented City on playing an open game rather than parking the bus like many other visiting teams do at Stamford Bridge, but the problem when playing Chelsea is that they attack from everywhere. Both full-backs constantly look to overlap and the centre backs, particularly David Luiz, are more than happy to come forward with the ball. Add to that a midfield which is fluid, with Juan Mata popping up everywhere, and any side would find it hard to get players forward.
City were overwhelmed, not because their tactical approach was wrong or they lacked motivation or spirit, but simply because the opposition were too good. Sometimes you lose games, but sometimes you’re beaten. This was the latter.
Maybe for once the international week is coming at a good time for City. There’s nothing worse than a hiatus when all’s going well, but maybe a break will prove restorative. Having said that, Hughton will be praying that his international contingent come through the week unscathed, because he knows that points now need to come sooner rather than later.