Sunday 4th March, Etihad Stadium – It was champions-elect versus the defending champions, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City vs Antonio Conte’s Chelsea in today’s premier league game.
City were looking for the first of five wins required to wrap up the league title in record time. Chelsea had more humble objectives, simply hoping to leapfrog Tottenham into fourth place, at least temporarily.
February had been a pretty topsy-turvy month for both clubs. Chelsea suffered a crushing defeat from Watford to start the month, followed by home wins over West Bromwich Albion in the league and Hull City in the FA Cup. After that came a 1 – 1 draw with Barcelona, and then a 2 – 1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Chelsea squad had then enjoyed the relative luxury of a full week’s rest before today’s game.
Manchester City had started February with a shock 1 – 1 draw with Burnley at Turf Moor, after which they easily dispatched Leicester City, and then Basel in the Champions League. They then suffered an even more surprising reverse in the FA Cup, losing 1 – 0 to Wigan Athletic courtesy of a Will Grigg strike… before brushing Arsenal aside with two consecutive 3 – 0 wins in the Carabao Cup and the premier league.
Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho were both unavailable with hamstring problems. Fabian Delph was completing a suspension. David Luiz, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ross Barkley all remained out injured for Chelsea. N’golo Kante also missed the game with an illness.
Mr. Conte opted to start Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian in front, in a reprise of Chelsea’s attacking formation against Barcelona; Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata were on the bench for today’s game.
Kyle Walker recovered from a calf injury to start this game for City. Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko rotated in for Vincent Kompany and Danilo in defence. Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan came in for the injured Sterling and Fernandinho in City’s attack and midfield respectively.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Ederson 7.5, Zinchenko 6 (Danilo 5.5), Laporte 7, Otamendi 7.5, Walker 6.5, De Bruyne 7.5, David Silva 8 (Foden NR), Gundogan 7.5, Bernardo Silva 8, Sane 7.5, Aguero 8 (Jesus 5.5)
Subs Bravo, Danilo, Kompany, Stones, Toure, Foden, Jesus
Courtois 5.5, Moses 6.5, Azpilicueta 6.5, Christensen 4.5, Rudiger 7.5, Alonso 3.5, Fabregas 6.5, Drinkwater 6, Willian 7 (Giroud 6), Pedro 6.5 (Emerson 5.5), Hazard 6 (Morata 5)
Subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Emerson, Cahill, Chalobah, Morata, Giroud
Manchester City created the game’s first chance – just two minutes in Zinchenko and ex-Chelsea midfielder Kevin de Bruyne combined well, before de Bruyne attempted a through ball to Aguero in the box, but Azpilicueta intercepted to clear the ball.
A minute later David Silva dribbled past Azpilicueta into the box, but Courtois dived in to cut out his cross. Gundogan put another cross into the box, but Leroy Sane mis-hit it under pressure from Antonio Rudiger.
Sane dribbled into the box again on nineteen minutes but Rudiger tackled to dispossess him. The ball fell to Sergio Aguero, who passed out to Bernardo Silva under more pressure from Rudiger. Silva’s shot was just off target, curling over the bar for a goal kick.
Chelsea almost caught their hosts on the counter a few minutes later – Pedro put the ball out wide to Moses, who managed to release Willian down the right before falling to a wild, studs up tackle from Zinchenko.
Willian took the ball up to the by-line but his final decision was poor, crossing to no-one in particular when Hazard was open. Otamendi slid in to cut out the danger, and Zinchenko got a well-deserved yellow card.
De Bruyne crossed a free kick into the box, and Sane, who was unmarked, whipped a shot past Courtois. The shot might have been slightly off target, but Azpilicueta cleared the ball off the goal-line anyway.
Moses played a through ball down the right side, but Pedro’s cross went straight to Ederson under pressure from Nicolas Otamendi.
Four minutes before half time, Otamendi had the ball in the net off another de Bruyne free kick, but the goal was ruled out for an off-side call on Aguero.
The match was goalless at half-time, but it had been far too easy for City to that point. Chelsea, frankly, were no attacking threat whatsoever. Hazard was completely ineffective as a striker, and the home side were free to create chance after chance, without fear of retribution.
And straight from second half kick-off, City had the goal their dominance deserved:
Christensen scuffed a Gundogan long ball straight to Aguero in the box. The Argentinian striker immediately passed to an overlapping Silva, who crossed to the opposite post. Bernardo Silva raced in past a dallying Marcos Alonso to knock the ball into the ground and over Courtois for 1 – 0.
Chelsea had another chance on the counter eight minutes later – Fabregas put Victor Moses in on goal with a nifty through pass. Moses might have cut back to Willian, but he chose to shoot from a difficult angle and sliced the ball well wide.
David Silva had two more shots at goal, but Courtois saved the first, and Drinkwater blocked the second out for a corner.
False Nine, Zero Goals
With the exception of a 3 – 0 win when Huddersfield defended deep and let them play, every time Chelsea have used Eden Hazard as a striker this season, they’ve struggled to attack effectively, either scoring just one goal or none at all.
Today was no different: Chelsea did not register a single shot on target the entire game.
Manchester City had shown against weaker opposition (Burnley and Wigan Athletic) that they could be breached, but with both their center forwards warming the bench, Chelsea were simply not set up to take advantage.
Even more worrying though, was a heads-down attitude and lack of application from some Chelsea players at certain moments in the game.
Final Score Manchester City 1 – 0 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Express UK
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