Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts on Manchester City 0-1 Chelsea

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIFebruary 3, 2014

Chelsea earned a decisive 1-0 victory against City. If you watched the match, you know that to be the truth.
Chelsea earned a decisive 1-0 victory against City. If you watched the match, you know that to be the truth.Clint Hughes/Associated Press

For a match decided by a single goal, Manchester City 0-1 Chelsea offered scads of talking points.

There is no compelling reason to develop any of the thoughts that follow into a full thesis. Like the match itself, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

In the boxing game it is said that styles make fights. Where City and Chelsea are concerned, it must be said that Chelsea's style is probably the antidote for City's normally relentless taste for goals.

"If I want to win 1-0, then I can, because it is the easiest thing in football," Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho said in December according to John Edwards of the Daily Mail.

In context, Mourinho was complaining of his strikers' inability to press and score enough goals to put a match away. Ironically, Chelsea's 0-1 victory at the Etihad flattered the Sky Blues. Mourinho's men hit the woodwork three times—despite City's 65 percent possession, this was a comprehensive beating.

And Mourinho masterminded this victory by doing precisely the opposite of what most pundits thought he would do, i.e., park the bus and hit on the counter.

Instead, Chelsea ably withstood early City forays on goal, then poured forward regularly though Eden Hazard, Ramires and Willian. The fact that Branislav Ivanovic scored the only goal of the match—on a rebound strike following chaotic, shambolic City defending—was proof of how effective Mourinho's plan was.

Chelsea's perceived weakness entering this match was that they lack a competent striker. You will notice that City played all three of their supposedly world class strikers—Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic—and came away goalless.

In fact, Jovetic had the best shift of the three. Dzeko turned in another one of his "now you see me, now you don't" performances, epitomized by the shot he skied over Petr Cech's bar in the 41st minute after receiving the ball with time and space in the area.

Whether Negredo was simply not match fit, missed injured Sergio Aguero too much or some combination, he was feckless.

Dzeko and the ball never seemed to be working together in the Chelsea match.
Dzeko and the ball never seemed to be working together in the Chelsea match.Jon Super/Associated Press

Where City really suffered, though, was in the center of the park due to the last-minute scratch of midfield cat burglar Fernandinho.

James Milner was on the team sheet, but City manager Manuel Pellegrini instead moved centre-back Martin Demichelis to holding midfield and inserted Matija Nastasic at centre-back next to Vincent Kompany. That decision was ultimately disastrous.

Nastasic's jumpy, borderline frightened play put Kompany on an island far too often. Indeed, Kompany screamed at Nastasic at one point after the Serbian cut Kompany's legs out from under him trying to recover his position.

Demichelis tried gamely, but he is just too slow of foot to come close to accounting for Fernandinho's footspeed and midfield know-how. Chelsea took repeated advantage of Demichelis' inability to track back once he committed himself past the center dot.

Did City miss Aguero, Fernandinho and Samir Nasri? Who wouldn't? But injuries are never an excuse for a deep side like City. The XI that City started against Chelsea should never get shut out.

Except, as stated before—styles make fights. Chelsea defend resolutely and, unlike so many Premier League sides who can put nine men behind the ball but then never threaten, their midfield is fast, opportunistic and skilled. Chelsea carved City up on this day.

As my son has heard from me many times about professional sports, though: The other guys also get paid and they are also trying to win. City would have loved to go 18-0-0 at the Etihad in the league this season. But if they manage 17-1-0, that will not be half bad, either.

So City remain behind league table-topping Arsenal and remain ahead of Chelsea (albeit only by goal difference now). The Chelsea win thus changed much, but then again changed very little.

And City will be quite happy not to play Chelsea in the league again this season.