/ 15 December 2011

Manchester City vs Chelsea: Five things we learned

    1. David Luiz’s absence does not solve defensive problems
    Many of the Chelsea faithful may have breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that David Luiz was suspended for this game. André Villas-Boas has been at pains to defend the player and Luiz did play well in Chelsea’s last game, the 3-0 win over Valencia, but question marks remain and here Villas-Boas was given the chance to see whether Branislav Ivanovic could form a more reliable central-defensive partnership with John Terry. The answer, after less than two minutes of play, had to be no, as the pair’s naive split created the space for Sergio Aguero to play in Mario Balotelli to score. Nervousness then spread across the back four, with José Bosingwa particularly affected. What is apparent is that Chelsea’s defensive problems can’t be pinned on Luiz alone.

    2. Manchester City’s defence is also less than great
    City now have 49 goals in their first 15 fixtures, but it has been somewhat forgotten they have been less than impressive defensively. Roberto Mancini’s men had not kept a clean sheet in their seven fixtures before this game, their worst run in two years. Constant changes to the back four are part of the explanation and another alteration was made here, with Pablo Zabaleta coming in for Stefan Savic. Marshalled by Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry, City’s back four started well, keeping a deep and disciplined line. But on 24 minutes Raul Meireles was allowed far too much room to volley in Daniel Sturridge’s cross. The wait for a fifth Premier League clean sheet of this campaign goes on.

    3. Mario Balotelli can be trusted in big games
    Following Balotelli’s red card in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool two weeks ago, Mancini said he would have to consider leaving the forward out of key fixtures. The manager clearly experienced a change of heart in the interim, deciding as he did to select his Italian compatriot for this game. The decision appeared particularly curious given that the persistently controversial striker broke a club curfew over the weekend, but less than two minutes after kick-off here the 21-year-old had more than justified his selection by scoring the opening goal. Perhaps he should stay out for a curry every night.

    4. Frank Lampard is far from finished
    For a second match in succession, Villa-Boas picked a midfield that did not contain Frank Lampard. The 33-year-old was not missed against Valencia and, with Ramires and Meireles impressing as Chelsea clawed their way back, it appeared he would not be a loss here either. But cometh the 72nd minute, cometh the man, with Lampard’s arrival as a replacement for Meireles swinging the game in Chelsea’s favour. The midfielder’s passing was crisp and his movement threatening and it was his ball to Sturridge that led to the decisive penalty. Lampard took it and he scored. Stamford Bridge erupted and those who continue to doubt the England man once again fell silent. After Chelsea had fallen 1-0 down here, it felt as if his experience would be required.

    5. Chelsea are a match for the big boys
    Defeats by Manchester United and Arsenal and twice by Liverpool not only damaged Chelsea’s Premier League standing and participation in the Carling Cup but also questioned their ability to perform against the biggest and best opposition. This, therefore, was a test in more ways than one and it will have greatly pleased Villa-Boas that his side finally overcame stellar opposition with a performance that highlighted their powers of recovery, resilience and, in the shape of Sturridge and Juan Mata in particular, attacking prowess. Now seven points behind the leaders, City, this Chelsea team are well and truly back in the title race. —