Should Manchester City manage to claw back Chelsea’s five-point lead and win the Premier League title, Jesus Navas should re-watch injury-time of their 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge and puff out his cheeks in relief. His two late corners – one of which hit the first man while the other was inexplicably taken short – summed up a horribly frustrating second half in which a tired Chelsea played for and happily accepted the point that minds the gap.
City fans may rightly claim that they were the better footballing side and certainly that they showed the most ambition, but there’s little joy to be found in ‘earning’ a draw against a team who are playing for a draw. “Boring. boring Chelsea,” was the chant from the away fans, but there is nothing dull about having a five-point lead at the top of the table.
Chelsea did not have a shot or a corner in the second half and they had only three of the former and one of the latter all game. They were clearly utterly shattered by the end of the match, with eight of Saturday’s starting XI having played two hours of football against Liverpool on Tuesday night. And yet City could not find a way through, with Kurt Zouma and Nemanja Matic particularly excellent despite their fatigue.
In the absence of Yaya Toure driving from deep and shooting from 20 yards, City needed David Silva to find pockets of space, but there were no pockets of space between the almost-inhuman Matic and his defence. Navas and Milner both found joy against the unusually vulnerable Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, but too often their crosses found either Chelsea defenders or Fernandinho, whose shooting is not even in the same school year as Toure’s.
“We played a very good game and we went for the three points from the beginning,” said Manuel Pellegrini, but points are not awarded for intention but purely for execution. This is not gymnastics or diving; there is no ‘degree of difficulty’ system to boost your points total. It may not be noble to play for a draw at home but it’s sensible when you have a group of tired footballers, the absence of your goalscoring axis and a five-point lead.
‘There are still 45 points to play for,’ will be City’s mantra in the coming days but they have squandered a massive chance to put themselves within one Chelsea slip-up of the title. Now they must wait for two; how can they rely on other, inferior teams to beat the champions-elect when they failed when faced a tired group of players shorn of a 15-assist midfielder and a 17-goal striker?
When is a point at Stamford Bridge not a good result? When the point is proffered on a silver plate.