* Oh karma, you naughty little bugger. After a week in which Jose Mourinho has sunk to even lower depths to deflect attention away from the performance of his team, a display which only forces the spotlight to shine brighter. Chelsea may have finished one place and eight points ahead of Manchester City last season, but on this evidence they are no match.
City were spectacular, strong in defence when required but inspired by a front five which contains speed, skill, power and poise in spades. The last ten minutes felt similar to the 6-1 victory at Old Trafford in 2011, a formidable opponent forced onto its knees by the sheer strength of City’s attack. As with that 2011/12 and 2013/14 vintage, once this City side gets in front, they will be damn difficult to stop.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side were the title favourites coming into this game, but any punter who decides to climb on now has surely missed the bolting horse. This secret is out: Manchester City are back. I’m just glad I didn’t predict them to finish fifth.
* “I cannot say it [the match] is crucial, I cannot say it is decisive, I cannot say it is very, very, very important. It is always important, but it is not decisive” – Jose Mourinho.
The pre-match suspicion was obvious. Even without the increased siege mentality created by Mourinho around himself this week, Chelsea’s opposition were the title favourites. A match away from home at the team who finished second last season decreed that a draw would be a positive result.
Mourinho would never admit to coming for a point, but ‘must not lose’ was the appropriate mantra. Talk of Chelsea ‘crisis’, however hyperbolic, only served to see a tight, tactical battle as the likely outcome.
The team news confirmed those suppositions. With Oscar sustaining a slight knock in midweek, Ramires was drafted back in to midfield. It was a team selection necessitated by injury, but may well have been Mourinho’s preference whatever Oscar’s fitness. Jose claimed before the game that they had prepared for Oscar to start but… well… Jose.
Ramires is a tool to add solidity to a midfield, whatever your assessment of his ability. If the game became bitty and stagnated, Chelsea’s midfield was doing its job. For Manchester City, Sergio Aguero returned to the starting line-up after recovering to full match fitness, whilst Raheem Sterling made his home debut. Jesus Navas was preferred to Samir Nasri.
* I really didn’t want to have to do this, but The Sun On Sunday’s ‘exposé’ of Dr Eva Carneiro was such a cheap and despicable slur that I really didn’t have any choice. Even if it is exactly what Mourinho wanted, the internal conflict between Chelsea’s manager and the club’s medical staff led the agenda in the build-up to the game.
Firstly, it is important to say that Carneiro and Jon Fearn did little, if anything, wrong last Saturday. Footage indicates that they were called on by the referee, and possibly by Eden Hazard too. Their responsibility is not to the game situation, but to the physical well-being of the players. Both acted to the best of their (substantial) ability and medical training.
One could forgive Mourinho for his classic attention deflection trick in the post-match fallout when feelings were running high, but his decision to throw his colleagues under the bus leaves a sour taste, as does the decision to ban Carneiro and Fearn from the bench for Sunday’s match. His insistence that they could return and his own brief admission of guilt (“I make mistakes”) on Friday at least suggests that the situation is repairable.
However, it is the reaction to the incident (in some quarters) that has been the most unpleasant. Writing for ONE World Sports, Duncan Castles said that having a woman around the players may ‘affect the dressing room dynamic’ at Chelsea, as if they are all mouth-breathers who cannot prevent themselves getting erect when within five yards of a female.
The Daily Mail’s ‘Who Is Eva Carneiro?’ feature was also poor, as if it somehow mattered whether a medical professional has ‘pre-Raphaelite curls and toned figure’ or not. ‘She is pictured tucking into an iced cupcake while another shows her love of horse-riding as she canters in what looks like a safari setting’, that article informed the reader. Well whoop-de-f**king-doo.
The straw that broke this football writer’s back was that Sun on Sunday piece, however, in which an ‘ex-lover’ of Carneiro described how she ‘loved sex’ and ‘drank wine’, under the pretence that this was anything other than a thinly-veiled character assassination. Adult enjoys consensual sexual intercourse? Well why the hell didn’t someone tell me earlier? I feel stupid for defending her now.
* Initially I thought I had Carneiro’s rap sheet sorted. Her crimes were 1) Carrying out her job correctly, 2) Expressing gratitude to those who had supported her and 3) Being in a long-term relationship (apparently with a s**t who would sell his story to the press). Throw away the key, jailer. Hanging’s too good for her.
But actually, Carneiro is guilty of a far more serious football crime: Being a woman.
Ask yourself this: How much do you know about Jon Fearn? What historical era is his haircut from? How many times a week does he have a w**k? Does he love horse-riding? Exactly, you don’t know.
To be a woman in football, despite the significant strides made, is to be at a disadvantage. You are fair game, an easy target. The best you can hope for on matchday is to be judged differently to a man in your same position whilst having thousands of ignorant morons shouting at you to show them your breasts. The moment things go awry, a small but dangerous minority will look to victimise you and sensationalise your (frankly dull) past actions.
Be considered attractive and you will be labelled ‘sultry’ and ‘sexy’, be considered unattractive and the abuse will be far more derogatory. This has to stop.
A trained medical professional has been reduced to the status of object for the hungry masses to feast upon, and it stinks. There will be those reading this who feel it has no place in an article about Manchester City vs Chelsea, but the Chelsea manager (and the subsequent reaction) decreed that it does, not me.
For women like Eva Carneiro, the ideal scenario in football is for you to be invisible. Just imagine how belittling that feels. If that’s not a status quo worth highlighting, I don’t know what is.
* On with the game, and predictions that it would be tight and tense were eliminated within the first 22 seconds.
That’s how long it took for Aguero to get his first chance, sumptuously played in by Silva. John Terry was undone by the pass, Chelsea saved by Asmir Begovic’s first save for the club away from Stamford Bridge. Navas screwed the rebound wide of goal.
This battle of striker vs goalkeeper was to be the overriding story of the first half, as Chelsea opted for the optimistic strategy of playing without a midfield. Yaya Toure, Sterling, Silva and Navas were all given licence to maraud into the visitors’ final third, as Chelsea looked listless to the point of disinterest.
Three times more Begovic saved from Aguero, with the striker somehow putting an Aleksandar Kolarov cross wide from close range. Begovic may have anticipated a little more support on his debut.
* “If at first you don’t succeed,” shouted Martin Tyler as Aguero finally gave City the lead after half an hour, the same words going through all of our minds in unison. The Argentinean may have been thwarted on numerous occasions during the first half, but you can’t keep a good man down.
When it finally came, the goal was a thing of immense beauty. Aguero retains an unerring ability to dance past players at the same pace with the ball than without it, and even the game’s best defenders are made to look foolish. The replays hint at an element of fortune, but Aguero has done this far too many times for luck to be involved.
Aguero’s left-footed finish to beat Begovic was passed into the far corner, proof that placement beats power when done properly. Toure’s assist made it three goals and two assists in his last four league games.
Chelsea defended appallingly in the first half, but there is a reason why Aguero fashions so many chances inside the area; his movement is breath-taking. I remember an old segment on Match of the Day, in which the pundits focused on a young Gavin Strachan’s performance for Coventry City (told you it was old). The point made was that finding space was not rocket science, merely achieved through constant movement and awareness. The camera focused on Strachan for two or three minutes, and he was never once still. Constantly looking around, constantly on his toes, constantly ready.
Strachan ended up in non-league football, so the perfect recipe had clearly not been found. However, when you combine those constant darting movements with searing pace and an incredible first touch, chances will always come your way. Aguero had 16 more shots than any other Premier League player last season (and nine more shots on target), despite playing 500-700 minutes fewer than any other player at the top of that list. Quite simply, he is the league’s best mover, and its best player too.
* If the opening goal was supposed to call Chelsea to arms, it did nothing of the sort. The only thing Mourinho could be grateful for is that the half-time lead was only one goal. Another free-kick delivery from Kolarov found Eliaquim Mangala free in the area. The Frenchman somehow managed to head the ball wide rather than into Begovic’s net.
After allowing Swansea to have 17 shots at Stamford Bridge last weekend, Chelsea promptly let City have nine before half-time on Sunday. Full-backs overwhelmed by overlapping players; central midfielders waving the opposition through and a central defence finding it impossible to stem the tide. This is still a Mourinho side, but not as we know it.
* There was still time for controversy as the first half drew to a close, Fernandinho’s elbow clattering into the side of Diego Costa’s head. The Brazilian was booked for his assault, whilst Costa was left visibly fuming by the incident. The Spaniard charged down the tunnel to remonstrate after the half-time whistle had been blown.
Costa receives plenty of column inches for his reactionary nature, but his anger was understandable. Fernandinho’s arm was placed deliberately into his face, and could potentially have caused significant damage. I fail to see how Martin Atkinson can see that incident and not consider it serious foul play under the ‘endangering the safety of an opponent’ wording of the law. A yellow card is nothing but a cop-out.
Another kneejerk reaction: What would have happened if that had been Costa doing the elbowing? How many more times would we have seen it on loop than we will Fernandinho’s crime?
As an aside (because I’ve run out of conclusions), Toure should also have been sent off with two minutes to go for a second yellow card. By that stage, the game was already won.
* Premier League crowds can be tiresome at times. It started with the booing of Raheem Sterling by Chelsea supporters, presumably preferring to cheer their own team comprised of homegrown players and those plucked from non-league obscurity. None of Chelsea’s players showed ambition to move to Stamford Bridge, so Sterling is right to be chastised.
Then we had the inevitable introduction of Chelsea’s medical staff, enough ironic cheers and chants to fill a three-day stag do.
“You couldn’t write a script like this,” said Tyler on commentary as two Chelsea players received treatment at the same time. You really could, Martin. You really, sadly, could.
* The introduction of Kurt Zouma at the break was predictable, but it was a ground-breaking substitution in Chelsea’s history. In removing his captain, Mourinho substituted John Terry for the first time in the Premier League.
Terry did not show any sign of injury when he took to the bench as the second half began. Is this another changing of the Chelsea guard?
* Kolarov remains one of the most unfathomable Premier League players. There are games where his crossing is abject, and his defending has never been his strongest attribute. Yet some weeks he looks a world-beater. Against Chelsea, he was the best player on the pitch.
With Manchester City enjoying the majority of territory, the game was ideal for Kolarov to flourish. With Silva and Sterling both preferring to tuck inside, the Serbian had the entire left flank in which to attack; he is not a man who needs a second invitation. Kolarov created more chances against Chelsea than any other player on the pitch, surprising for a match of this magnitude. Scotch all talk of parked buses and little adventure.
Kolarov also gave international teammate Ivanovic a torrid time. The season before last Ivanovic was widely recognised as the best right-back in the league, but his decline has been marked since; his turning circle is increasing almost by the match.
Ivanovic’s marking of Kompany for City’s second was appalling, allowing the Belgian to run free. As if to add a mouldy cherry atop a dry, bitter cake, it was Ivanovic’s pass that was intercepted for City’s third. Good day at the office.
After being given twisted blood by Jefferson Montero last week, Ivanovic’s form has become a notable headache for Mourinho. Time for Cesar Azpilicueta to move across and Abdul Baba Rahman to be introduced.
* A word too for Bacary Sagna, effectively AWOL at Manchester City last season but superb in keeping Eden Hazard quiet on Sunday. It is easy to forget just how good the Frenchman was during much of his Arsenal career, but I (like many) assumed that form was now lost to the ether. How wrong I was.
Sagna was not able to utilise any of his attacking endeavour. He created no chances, attempted no shots and offered just one cross all afternoon in comparison with Kolarov’s 11. Whilst City’s left-back ventured forward at will, Sagna’s was a markedly different task. That Hazard had just one shot and created only two chances indicates the success of Sagna’s work.
Pablo Zabaleta’s need for an extended rest after wall-to-wall football for three years could have provided Pellegrini with a huge headache; Sagna’s form is acting as the perfect paracetamol.
* Sterling may have expressed his disappointment at being removed with 12 minutes to go, but it was his last action before the substitution that assisted City’s second goal. Sterling won a corner off Ivanovic, and was then removed to allow Martin Demichelis to shore up the midfield.
Conceding goals from set pieces is one of Mourinho’s biggest bugbears, and watching Kompany score a replica of his goal against West Brom will cause steam to eject from the his ears. Silva’s delivery from the left was perfect, and Kompany was simply stronger than Ivanovic. Having inadvertently used his shoulder last week, Kompany opted for forehead this week. His header went in via a faint Begovic touch and the far post.
* Before long, victory became triumph, and defeat turned into Chelsea tragedy. With Mourinho’s players looking forlorn, and Ivanovic again losing possession in his own half, the ball broke to Fernandinho on the edge of the box.
The Brazilian (lucky to be on the pitch) suffered a decline last season perhaps greater than any other Premier League player. If we see the Fernandinho of 2013/14 again, City are in for a treat.
There are few things more pleasing than strike of a football that causes the maker’s name to stay perfectly still as it arrows into the net. The best example of this is, of course, Carlos Alberto in the 1970 World Cup final, but Fernandinho did a more than passable impression.
Other niche fetish: The way in which both of Fernandinho’s legs were off the ground for a fraction of a second, demonstrating the power imparted. Get on that.
* For Chelsea, talk of crisis is going nowhere. That may be melodramatic only two games into the season, but this was a type of display we have not seen often since Mourinho’s return. They lacked bite, they lack positional discipline and they lacked invention. A sorry hat-trick.
Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to improve his side, and those wants are fully understandable. Sarah Winterburn wrote recently about the perfect storm of last season’s title victory, but looking at Chelsea’s bench at the Etihad emphasises the lack of strength in depth.
Radamel Falcao, Loic Remy, Juan Cuadrado and John Obi Mikel – these are not the reinforcements of a title winner. Compare those to Pablo Zabaleta, Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Martin Demichelis. With Kevin de Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi to potentially follow, there are no prizes for guessing why Mourinho may be knocking on Roman Abramovich’s door.
* “We cannot be thinking about winning the title in the second game of the season but we must remember the importance of picking up as many points as we can at home,” said Pellegrini before the game. If he’s still not thinking about winning the title, he might be the only one. Two 3-0 victories, and one of those against the champions, raises hope to the point of fervour.
Finally, after a week in which Mourinho has taken aim at various targets including Arsene Wenger (again) on the eve of the match, we shall end with a choice quote from City’s manager.
“As managers, we must take care of the Premier League. It has a lot of fans and, like me, they want to see a good game until the end and the more goals the better. That does not mean we should not defend, but it should never be our intention to score only one goal then try to finish the game.”
If Jose thought he had a monopoly on thinly-veiled digs, he should think again. If he thought his Chelsea side could retain the title without significant improvement, reconsideration may again be on the menu.