Our bore draw on Wednesday night, courtesy of West Ham’s “19th century” football, coupled with Manchester City’s 5-1 win over Tottenham, left us three points behind Manuel Pellegrini’s aesthetically pleasing side. Jose Mourinho may say we are not embroiled in a title race, but we inevitably are. To be three points off the leaders at this stage of the season leaves you in a position where a title tilt is in your reach. However, we face a daunting task to evict the Manchester club from top spot, and Monday night presents us with a game we simply cannot afford to lose as we prepare for our first of two games at the Etihad in the space of 15 days.
City, who have surpassed the century mark in terms of goals, lived up to their free-scoring tag as they hit five past a stunned Spurs at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night, while we were unable to break down a stubborn Hammers defence. It was inevitable we would rue Juan Mata’s departure at some stage, but even I did not expect it to proceed in such a rapid manner. While the Spaniard was experiencing a dream debut at Manchester United, providing the assist for Ashley Young’s scintillating strike, we were desperately struggling to open up a resolute West Ham. There is hardly anyone more efficient than Mata when it comes down to delivering the pass to slice open a sturdy back-line. We may have to adopt and slightly adjust the tactics employed by Sam Allardyce if we are to become the first Premier League side this season to leave the Etihad with at least a point.
Jose has been on somewhat of a expectation and pressure temperation campaign for the large part of this week, denying our embroilment in the title race and saying we too could be hit for five or six. The Portuguese pragmatist also claimed a top four finish is our sole aspiration and that he had preferred a City victory over Spurs in order to open up a gap between the two sides in thought of Champions League qualification. I don’t believe Jose, but if he is in truth airing his deep views, it would be almost suicidal not to play for the title at this stage of the season being three points off the summit whilst boasting an increasingly impressive squad as we do.
We saw it at Old Trafford in August and at the Emirates in December. Mourinho is prepared to play out a stalemate, with the avoidance of defeat his main objective. We have relied on our solidified defence, which will be further bolstered by the signature of potential future captain Kurt Zouma, to keep our rivals out in those two fixtures, but Monday night presents a much more arduous examination as we travel to the so-called “torture chamber”, where the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal have been ruthlessly dispatched this term.
But City are a team which can score goals to their heart’s content, and also leak them at the other end. It is why, however absurd it may sound, we stand a more refined chance of coming out of the Etihad with three points than we did at Old Trafford and the Emirates. My way of thinking is built around City’s Argentine defender Martin Demichelis, a kamikaze-like favourite of Pellegrini and an absolute shambles alongside the sometimes-dodgy Vincent Kompany. While at Arsenal we were faced with the solid duo of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, we are now confronted with a shaky partnership we should definitely target with our ammunition of Eden Hazard, Willian and co.
It further contributes to my inability to understand our general pessimism in the build-up to Monday night. We can win the title because our squad is just as impressive as City’s, we boast the best manager in world football, we are only three points off the top, we have beaten them already (at the Bridge) and they have Demichelis…
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High! And c’mon you Chels!