The well–known satellite operator that showed our match on Sunday also began broadcasting the premiere of a film that has been strangely eulogised by many. American Hustle contains an amazingly strong list of actors portraying how a group of con-artists were caught out and forced to work for the authorities in exchange for more lenient sentences. But in the end, they turned the tables on their pursuers and ended up getting away with it. The match was like the film in that one could easily have left to go to the bathroom and come back without missing anything special. It was certainly not a game for the neutral observer to watch and enjoy.
There was little surprise that Chelsea plaed with a defensive style. Manchester City have fantastic individual players with a strong spine. Who would not like to have Hart, Kompany, Toure and Aguero or Dzeko in their side? We absorbed pressure well from the home side and the tactic was a counter-attacking one. Having been to the Etihad stadium in the past it is easy to quieten the home fans should they not score in the opening twenty minutes. Although the game was not a particularly dirty one, it seemed ironic that City’s manager Pellegrini had issues with the our game plan when all his players wanted to do was foul us when we tried to break on the counter – and his players deservedly received yellow cards when doing so.
There were a few worries in the first half. We looked vulnerable on the left and Hazard was slow to track back to cover. Chelsea should have been awarded a penalty when Toure handled a ball that appeared to be going through on goal. City should have scored but for the excellent intervention of Courtois. In the second half, Ivanovic was lucky to get away with a clumsy challenge that also should have led to a penalty. It was only when the hosts were down to 10 men (a harsh second yellow) that we threatened. Schurrle and Hazard combined fantastically for our goal. Costa had his one clear chance to score during the game but unluckily hit the post.
Then came the many moments of ire. Yet again, Schurrle failed to carry out his duties and mark Milner (who was somehow awarded man of the match despite struggling to keep the ball in play during the first half). He passed to Lampard who scored a typical Lamps goal. There was a strange feeling inside too – although angry that we allowed City to score, once I saw it was Frank my anger was somewhat tempered. That natural but somewhat perverse reaction showed how much that player means to me. Truly a legend and a professional. You felt the goal was coming as we continued to play so uber-defensively after taking the lead. At least keep one man up front and hoof it Wimbledon style when you need to!
We did not seek to win the game which frustrated considering we had the one-man advantage. The fact we were just passing the ball from side to side during injury time seemed to reflect the instructions our players had been given. No complaints about the scoreline – it was a fair result – but seeing 5-0-0 as leaders of the league table would have been more beautiful. It appears our tactics for the season will be to take larger risks against the weaker sides and play it safe against the more dangerous opponents. Although after some of the results this weekend and last it is hard to see who outside Chelsea and Manchester City can claim to be real title challengers.