One of the strange changes made by Ancelotti today....
This match was billed as the biggest test for a Chelsea side we had seen so far, especially with City doing the double over them last season. It certainly turned out that way as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to a battling Manchester City side. Chelsea were certainly the side with more possession, but failed to carve out any real opportunities, especially in the second half. However, City constantly looked a threat on the break, and certainly could not be accused of lacking ambition.
The match started out with both teams appearing to feel each other out tactically. Neither side really created anything of note until Branislav Ivanovic headed onto the bar, then immediately straight into Joe Hart's gloves.
Chelsea seemed to be patient in their build-up play. They looked to be causing the City defence some problems, which was shown, first, by Dedryck Boyata practically strangling Drogba in an off-the-ball incident and, later, barging him unfairly off the ball inside the box, leaving Chelsea fans feeling a familiar sense of injustice. This feeling continued as Carlos Tevez appeared to kick the ball deliberately past Mikel so he could run into him and cleverly win himself a free kick, even though the ball was clearly out of his control and going for a goal kick as the referee blew his whistle. When Ramires attempted something similar—despite the ball still being in controllable range—the referee decided to tell him to get up.
As the first half drew to a close, Essien hit a shot high and wide with his weaker left foot, leaving the Chelsea faithful with a compounded feeling of frustration.
At halftime, neither manager would have been entirely happy. Ancelotti would certainly have been the more optimistic: City were only really able to create chances through crosses that were wasted on Silva and Tevez, who are both well under six foot tall and clearly unable to compete with the likes of Terry and Alex for the high balls.
However, in the second half, the team who appeared to have a clearer game plan was City. Silva began assisting Tevez a great deal more with his running, Milner became a ball-winning winger, and Yaya Toure started to run at the Chelsea defence a great deal more. Chelsea attempted to push up, but this favoured City's game as they packed bodies behind the ball, marking opponents tightly and frustrating Chelsea not just up front, but in midfield as well, with the likes of Nigel de Jong making some superb challenges.
One inevitable counterattack later, Manchester City had the lead. Milner won the ball from an unimpressive Ramires and suddenly it was three vs. three. Tevez ran with the ball at Ashley Cole, who would have been hoping for support from Terry if it were not for David Silva's genius run to drag the Chelsea skipper away from Tevez. This allowed the City skipper to fire a shot through Cole's legs and into the opposite corner, leaving Cech in no man's land.
Cue City celebrations and a series of mystifying substitutions from Chelsea. In his frustration, Mikel was guilty of more than one poor challenge and justified being taken off. However, Ancelotti chose to replace him with Yuri Zhirkov. This seemed to throw off Chelsea's balance in midfield, with both Malouda and Zhirkov appearing to operate on the left—along with Ashley Cole flying forward at every opportunity. The other problem now appeared to be that Essien was now limited to a supporting midfield role, leaving Chelsea without their talismanic force driving them forward.
With City having done a good job with Drogba so far, their fans and players alike would have been relieved to see the iconic target man replaced by a striker struggling for form in Daniel Sturridge, making his return to Eastlands. This replacement appeared to kill Chelsea's chances of scoring. Anelka was left attempting to dribble from deep and off both wings, leaving Chelsea without a reference up front as Sturridge had evidently been told to stay on the right. With City defending in numbers, Chelsea's front three appeared to be hugely outnumbered and struggling to hold onto the ball.
Then came the strangest decision from Ancelotti. Chelsea fans were no doubt at this time calling for Kakuta or McEachran to be brought on to try and open up City's dogged defence, and their wish was granted. However, when McEachran replaced Ramires, he appeared to be playing deeper than Essien, leaving Malouda, Anelka and Sturridge all as isolated as they had been before the sub.
Mancini kept it simple with his substitutions, with all three like-for-like swaps. Silva left and Johnson came on shortly before McEachran. As Chelsea huffed and puffed, City replaced the tired Tevez with Adebayor and gave Jerome Boateng his debut, giving Boyata a rest.
This appeared to decide match. As time ticked away, it turned out to be that way, with Chelsea fans left cursing both the poor tactical decisions by Carlo Ancelotti and the inconsistency of the referee.