In what the first game of the season with the potential to genuinely affect the Premier League title race, the two sides which will almost certainly finish 1st and 2nd played out the most hard fought match of the campaign so far. The game was indescribably more gripping than last year’s corresponding fixture – one of the most boring 0-0s in living memory – but until the final few moments looked liked yielding the same outcome, until a hilariously poor piece of goalkeeping from Joe Hart cost his side a deserved point. The hilarity of his misfortunes aside however, the result was a fantastic one against a team with the strongest squad in the division and one whom over the last few years have been recording victories over us far too often and easily. Equally as important as the three points today will have been the eradication of this almost-defeatist mentality, which has tainted are approach to matches with City for too long.
Team Selections: The release of the team sheets bought with them mixed impressions. My first thought was huge relief with the confirmation of Vincent Kompany’s absence and the irreverent, over-rated Martin Demichelis in his place. The decision to select all three of Javi Garcia, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure I thought was a clever one and one which would give them full control of the midfield – which to an extent it did, although less so than I predicted and hardly at all in the more open second half.
For us, it looks like Mourinho has finally settled on his favoured XI, or his favoured front six at least with Ramires, Lampard, Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard and Torres all expected, then selected to start. It has its flaws but the combination of the qualities, experience and in particular the industry of this group of players is starting to provide Mourinho with, what you’d assume is exactly what he’s looking for.
Match Report: Man City played the best football of the first half no doubt, but the best chances fell to Chelsea, with Fernando Torres missing a painfully easy chances about half an hour in. Instead of allowing his head to drop however, soon after he provided an incredible assist for the first goal, beating Gael Clichy on the outside to square it Andre Schurrle, who’d made a clever run to deceive the forgettable and past-it, Martin Demichelis.
City’s response after half-time was impressive though, with Sergio Aguero making a great run to fire an early shot past Petr Cech, who was caught uncharacteristically off-guard. Aguero was the game’s best player and most potent threat posed by City by a mile. (Yaya Toure was notably far less effective, starting in that more advanced position). The game was then largely open with each team’s attack being nullified by the skill and diligence of the opposition rather than the conservativeness of their tactics. And so, for the neutral I imagine it would’ve been slightly disappointing for such a game to be decided by such a shit piece of play – with Joe Hart making the wrong decision at the worst possible time and leaving poor Matija Nastasic without a clue what to do. The young Serb attempting to head the ball back to Hart just ended up knocking it over him allowing Torres to tap in the winner. The England goalkeeper made a great save in midweek against CSKA but the number of mistakes he’s made this season are beginning to mount dangerously high. In my opinion, in this form, he isn’t good enough for City or England and I wouldn’t be surprised if the former went and got a replacement in January.
Fernando Torres: Without question Chelsea’s best player was our Spanish centre forward, who after teasing fans across the world with his performances against Tottenham and Schalke into convincement he’s retained his best form, for me at least, made it official this afternoon. The striker is currently playing the best football of the past four years of his career and only looks like continuing to improve. Compared to the last two seasons, he looks at least twice as confident, ambitious and bullish with his play, with the optimism shown in his chasing down of the ball to score the winner, proof of the evolution of his attitude and self-belief. So whatever it is that Rui Faria and Mourinho are doing with him, it’s sure as hell working. And if he can maintain this form through the season and emulate his scoring statistics for Liverpool, then we’ll surely have on our hands a serious candidate for the greatest piece of man-management in Jose’s entire career.
Some Final Thoughts: I thought this game was a fantastic reminder of what makes this Chelsea team so wonderfully unique across the top sides in Europe – as we are able to coalesce the individual quality of some of the world’s greatest players with this incomparable determination to defend and grind out hard fought results. Despite having played some exceptional football over our last three league games, you could argue we were fortunate to win every single one of them, with some terrible mistakes from Alex Tettey, John Ruddy, David Marshall and Hart ultimately sourcing the victories. But this is exactly what makes Mourinho and Chelsea such tough competitors, having the self-belief and fortitude to win football matches even when they don’t deserve to, and then making everyone believe that they did.
It’s these qualities that mean Jose Mourinho’s Premier League record at Stamford Bridge now reads like this:
Games: 65 Wins: 51 Draws: 14 Losses: F**k all
With this game out of the way it also means that a third of the seasons hardest 12 games are already dealt with, less than a quarter of the way through the season. And now, just two points behind the leaders, the hardest of our next seven league games by quite a long way, will be at home to Southampton – hardly the most daunting of prospects.
Arsenal – Finally, speaking of the league leaders, we don’t have to wait long for our next big fixture as we go to the Emirates on Tuesday for our League Cup last 16 tie. Mourinho remarked in his match notes how nice it was of the FA to give us a whole 48 hours between playing two top sides – although have this suspicion he was being facetious.
Usually in the League Cup, the home sides win these big matches but I have a feeling we’ll win on Tuesday. Firstly because Arsenal have got some huge upcoming matches with Liverpool, Man Utd and Dortmund and so are unlikely to risk any of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil or Santi Cazorla against us. And secondly our second string will look something quite like this I imagine: Schwarzer, Azpi, Cahill, Luiz, Bertrand, Essien, Mikel, De Bruyne, Mata, Willian and Demba Ba. Not too bad is it?