Saturday lunchtime match between title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City at the Etihad stadium promised to be a treat as two of the most decorated managers Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte came face to face for the first time in the Premier League.
With Chelsea flying high in the league, top of the table and City just a point behind, much was expected out of the fixture, even though Pep hadn’t beaten Chelsea within 90 minutes in 6 games. Top of the League table was at stake. And it didn’t disappoint as Chelsea ran out convincing winners of a 3-1 score line, to which some would say the Londoners had ridden their luck. Lucky or not Conte and Chelsea treated us to a counter attacking style of play at its very best.
After a successful run of 7 games with a constant squad, Conte tweaked with is personnel as he replaced the ever dependable Matic with Cesc Fabregas and boy did it pay dividend. Both sides came up with a similar formation of 3-4-3 with Leroy Sane being the surprise inclusion in the right hand side of the midfield, playing as a wingback. It was a face-off between two Belgian super talents in Kevin De Bruyne, facing his former club and Eden Hazard.
Manchester City had the better of the opening exchanges though, with both teams opting to play out from the back and both pressing high in order to pinch the ball off each other. But City came out on top with much to the delight of the Etihad faithfuls as City thrived on missed passes and poor accuracy from the Chelsea back three as they stumbled early on.
Referee Antony Taylor had a busy day he came up with many contentious decisions over the course of the game, none more when Aguero was nudged by David Luiz with his shoulder but the referee let play go on much to the agony of Pep. The assistant referee though got it right when a De Bruyne free kick was headed in by Fernandinho who was rightly called offside.
Pedro had a tough day tracking back as Chelsea had only Costa and Hazard left to counter attack as the wing backs were engaged dealing with relentless City pressure. Inspire of all the odds against him Hazard dribbled past a couple of City players with pace but failed to find a team mate as he went past Bravo.
Trio of Silva, Aguero and De Bruyne were creating havoc as Chelsea defenders stumbled but Aguero failed to capitalize time and again as Chelsea defenders put their body on the line. Chelsea was forced to play with a back 5 which isolated their attackers. Having more of the possession and shots on goal, City pressed till the very end of the half when Jesus Navas came up with a cross which was poorly defended by Marcos Alonso as he failed to close down elsewhere Cahill didn’t do his goalkeeper any favors when he used his wrong leg to clear the ball which inadvertently deflected in past Courtois. City had a deserved lead, despite all the missed chances by Aguero, Pep went into half time with his team leading.
A game of two halves it was. With a solitary lead intact, Manchester City were on the attacking mode right from the off, controlling the game and the attacking wingbacks proving to be menacing. Despite creating further chances City again and again failed to capitalize, the best of which fell to the foot of Kevin De Bruyne from a super cross from Navas which he failed to tap in from two-feet out, hitting the post.
However, a moment of brilliance from Fabregas who found Diego Costa from a brilliant long range pass put in striker one on one with Otamendi who was having an awful day in the business was brushed off easily as the West London side equalized through the League’s top scorer. From then on it was all about Chelsea. City brought on a more conventional Left back Clichy in place of Sane to provide stability as Pep’s team pushed hard for a winner. Willian’s substitution in place of the injured talisman Pedro proved to be a blessing in disguise as he was put through by then the unplayable Costa who turned Otamendi on the outside with ease and the pacy Brazilian duly slotted home to make it 2-1.
Diego Costa was growing more and more into the game with Hazard and Willian partnering him on the right side. London was roaring as City brought in Yaya Toure and youngster Kelechi Iheanacho replacing Gundogan and John Stones. Pep’s idea was clear, to him, a defeat wasn’t acceptable as he inverted into a 4-4-2 formation. So in order to pull things pack as City went all out. Chelsea’s advantage has been their pace in counter attacks from which they have benefitted all season.
Kante was doing what he does, breaking up play; Fabregas was putting in a defensive shift as Chelsea prepared for an intriguing last 10 minutes of the game. Eden Hazard replacing Costa in the Centre Forward role outpaced Kolarov from a long ball from Alonso and calmly slotted in for Chelsea’s third.
It was all so easy for the Belgian as City were made to pay for their missed chances.Despite being shaky in the first half Chelsea back line which at times were loaded with five defenders managed to hold firm and withstand the City attacks.
As the game reached its conclusion, a frustrated Sergio Aguero lunged in with a horrendous challenge for which he was rightly sent off. City players burst out in anger failing to control their tempers as a result of which we came across ugly scenes at the Eihad as players, fans the background staffs lost their heads. Fernandinho was the second Citizen to be sent off following his atrocious action on Fabregas which resulted in City finishing the game with 9 men on the field.
The win left Chelsea 4 points clear at the top of the Premier League chart after 14 games into the season winning 8 straight premier leagues on the bounce.
Photo by Thomas Rodenbücher