The Observer, Louise Taylor: “Roberto Mancini believes Carlos Tevez can be his Diego Maradona. That analogy looked a little less fanciful after the Manchester City captain’s goal destroyed Chelsea’s hitherto perfect start to the Premier League season. Carlo Ancelotti’s side remain top but, without ever truly sparkling, City suggested that those who assume Chelsea’s title defence will turn into a procession may want to revise such opinions. Moreover, despite their mixed start to the campaign, few will dare dismiss Mancini’s own ambition of finishing top after a victory chilling in its efficiency.”
Sunday Telegraph, Duncan White: “Manchester City brought Chelsea’s sprint out of the blocks to a grinding halt at Eastlands, an accurately struck Carlos Tevez goal in the second half ending the champions’ 100 per cent start to their title defence. It was a ferociously competed game as City took on Chelsea’s customary physical superiority and, while Chelsea hit the post in the first half, there were very few clear chances for either side.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea’s first League loss of the campaign came in a tense, close encounter decided by a second-half Carlos Tevez goal. In a goalless first half with few chances at either end, Carlo Ancelotti’s side did hit woodwork, and Nicolas Anelka tested Joe Hart early in the second half, but this was not the potent attacking machine seen in every game this season up to this point.”
Musing on our 3-4 home defeat to Newcastle in the Coke Cup on Wednesday, I was reminded how very unpredictable football can be. A week ago I was fairly calm about the match today. Although many of our enemies in the media (Andy Gray and Alan Green in particular) had been banging on about our ‘easy’ first five fixtures we have been taking teams apart with athleticism, strength and exhilarating play. The first half against Blackpool saw the finest play by a Chelsea team I have seen in years. And, despite the hype, I still see the Manchester City side we are playing today as a team-in-the-making, rather like the one we had under Claudio Ranieri. And, like dear old Claudio’s teams, fragile with it. And, like us, they have an injury crisis of their own.
But, a week on, the wheel changes. We let in four goals on Wednesday night against a side that is, at best, on a par with Blackpool. And the excuse that we were playing the youngsters won’t work because, from all accounts, it was the seniors – Turnbull, Ferreira, Zhirkov, John Terry and Sturridge – who were sub-standard. But the worst news is that Kalou – who was one of our best players last Sunday – Kakuta, and Benayoun were all crocked and join Frank Lampard on the injury list. In four days we have moved from having 10 choices for the midfield, to having six. And, of those, Ramires (who plays today) has yet to prove himself, while McEachran is still just 17 years old.
When I retrained as a psychologist about twenty years ago I discovered that certain kinds of addiction are reinforced by uncertainty. For example, your first win on the race-track results in a dopamine release in the brain which produces euphoria. If your first few bets result in wins then the euphoria mounts. Now you want to keep looking for that next high. But if your betting cycle (like most people’s) contains a mix of wins and losses you are now hooked on uncertainty. Each defeat spurs the gambler to try harder at getting back the winner’s high; while each win rewards and reinforces the increasingly random search.
Football supporters of all stripes get off on this every match-day. It is this unpredictability, as well as the hope of a dopamine-rush, that keeps us turning up.
But each defeat creates a bi-polar crash into spiralling depression, while each win sets off a craving for still another high. So it remains for me today.
For the second time this season Carlo names the side a day early. Is that complacency? Or, given our injury list, necessity?
Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Essien, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka.
Substitutes: Turnbull, Zhirkov, Ferreira, Sturridge, Van Aanholt, Kakuta, McEachran.
After a slick opening five minutes from us, as we try to slice them apart with our quick passing style, the game settles down to a dull war of attrition. It is not hard to see why. Manchester City, the home team, are playing like a relegation side. Their tactics are 4-5-1 while they look for opportunities from set-pieces and long balls on for Tevez to chase.
One result is that there are 10 men battling it out in the middle third and space is almost impossible to find. Possession keeps getting lost and Ramires is the worst culprit. If he holds it, he gets pushed off the ball; if he passes it, it goes astray.
Despite a lot of hard work from Flo, Nic, John Obi, Essien and Drogs we lack ideas and penetration. And the more the match unfolds the more those players fade out of the match.
At the same time Citeh are getting away with foul after foul. It is our bad luck to receive a terrible refereeing performance from Andre Marriner. Summed up by the blatant pull back on Drogs by Boyata on the 28th minute in the penalty area. Marriner was standing in direct line of sight five yards away but doesn’t give it. A few minutes later, as Boyata barges Drogs off the ball, again in the penalty area, Marriner is seen romping off in the other direction, Tom Henning Ovrebo style. On such decisions these games will turn.
In between those incidents we have more bad luck. Ivan heads a corner against the bar and heads in the rebound. It looks in, but Hart saves on the line.
But, to be fair, it is Citeh who have created the better chances, with Tevez, for all his play-acting, looking a greater menace than any of our forwards.
Our other chances mostly fall to Essien. He has five long-range attempts on goal during this match but only one is on target. I longed for Lamps to have been there instead.
Half-time: Manchester City 0 Chelsea 0.
In the first minute Nic nearly scores with a great curling shot that Hart pushes round the post. Then, from the corner, Essien heads it well over.
Then a major shock: Citeh actually start playing football! They move up the pitch and begin playing a passing game in our half. A snap shot by the largely anonymous David Silva is well saved by Cech.
Now it is Chelsea who are playing on the counter. You might have expected us to take the lead now that we have more space to play in but nearly all our moves break down going forward as we look disjointed and Manchester City’s holding midfielders – de Jong in particular – are dominating the middle third.
Yet again Ramires is pushed off the ball and the ball is played forward to Tevez. With Ashley and JT watching him like a couple of rabbits caught in the headlights, and backing off all the way into the penalty area, Tevez looks up and beats Cech easily.
At that moment I knew, deep down, that we were going to lose this match. It was just my addiction that kept me going from hereon.
It would be easy to blame Marriner for our failure to get back into this match. He watches while Silva hacks Alex in a tackle so late the ball had already trickled over the goal line as they battled for possession. Then he does another one of his mindless stares as Barry knees Ivan in the balls right in front of him. Then, a minute later, he books John Obi (justifiably) for a tackle far less nasty than those two. But the truth is that, the more the game goes on, Citeh are looking more and more in control, with de Jong, Barry and Yaya Toure stifling our midfield trio.
Carlo’s solution? Bring John Obi off and leave Ramires on! My first thought is that Mikel must have been injured, but not so. Instead Zhirkov, who was terrible on Wednesday night, comes on instead. Baffling, but to be fair, Zhirkov didn’t play that badly and created some good opportunities with his runs forward.
Sturridge came on for a poor Drogba and, for me, he is a weaker version of Kalou. Lots of electric runs but with little end-product to show for it. One reason for that is that his first touch is so poor that, by the time he recovers, the opposing defender has already eased him away from danger.
The one substitution that does make a difference is McEachran, on for Ramires in the 81st minute. Suddenly we have a play-maker who starts to dictate the game and we regain some fluency. But it is too little, too late, and, in any case the final ball tends to end up with Sturridge…
Late on, Marriner makes yet another bad decision, but this time in our favour. Tevez skins Alex, who catches him as he runs for goal. Alex could easily have seen red for that, just as Zabaleta, Boyata, Silva and Barry could have done before.
Full-time: Manchester City 1 Chelsea 0.
The positive side
- It really might have been different today with a talented and courageous referee in charge.
- We can only get better when Lamps, Kalou, Kakuta, Benayoun and Bosingwa recover.
- We might have been mediocre today, but every player I saw gave everything in terms of effort. There weren’t any shirkers out there.
- Josh McEachran. Hope he plays on Tuesday night instead of Ramires. And I don’t care how small and underweight he is.
- It’s a setback against our bogey team, not a disaster. We are still top of the league.
- Manchester City. Credit to them and Roberto Mancini. They played as we used to do under Jose: close, tight, attritional, counter-attacking football ending up with the 1-0 scoreline. Remains to be seen if they can kick on from here, though.
- Arsenal 2 – West Brom 3. Liverpool 2 – Sunderland 2. West Ham 1 – Spurts 0. Enough said.
The negative side
- Andre Marriner. Hope he a) watches his performance carefully again on video b) practices his trademark mindless stare in the mirror while repeating the phrase ‘I was crap today’ over and over again, and c) meticulously reads his letter from the FA demoting him to League Two until Christmas.
- Squad strength. It doesn’t look like it’s there to me, unless Ramires, Kakuta, Bruma, van Aanholt and Borini can step up to the Josh McEachran mark and prove me wrong.
- Shots on target. With only three on target and 11 off target, it’s back to the drawing board for us. In particular, Michael Essien would be well advised to spend the next two days in his back garden, practicing his shooting skills, before we play Marseilles on Tuesday.
- Ramires. I hate to knock newbies but I fear that the dreaded Number 7 curse has well and truly settled down on him.
- My addiction look like it’s going to get worse rather than better.
Final quote from Carlo
“We didn’t play how we wanted, we suffered the pressure in midfield from Manchester City but we were not able to use our play and we had a difficult day. There was too much complication to our play and we didn’t have the possibility to show our quality. I think Manchester City had a very good performance, they won in midfield, they won a lot of tackles and I think Manchester City deserved to win.”