Chelsea 2 Manchester City 3 – Thoughts from Villa Park

The Premier League Owl

Branislav Ivanovic should have known better, and as should any Chelsea fans disputing Kevin Friend’s decision. If Nigel De Jong makes that tackle of Eden Hazard, those same supporters would be – rightly – howling for a red card. Enter a tackle with your studs showing, and the referee is being given a decision to make. In recent seasons, we’ve seen dozens of players dismissed for the same thing, so there are no excuses and this can no longer be considered to be an ambiguity within the rules. If you make a tackle which could potentially injure an opponent, then you’re flirting with consequence.

Commentators are too soft of teams who have been reduced to ten men. All of the Manchester City goals were of high quality, but all featured calamitous defending from Chelsea. Dismissing poor marking, awful clearing headers, and naive positioning as just products of ‘being a man down’ is misleading; Roberto Di Matteo’s side lost yesterday because of their failure to contain City’s front five, not because they had a man sent off.

Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero have the potential to be the best forward partnership in the league this season. We’ve seen enough of Edin Dzeko now to know that, while he scores goals, he just doesn’t contribute enough to the attacking play as a whole. Compare that with Tevez, who is able to interchange positionally with his countryman, and create a far more fluid system that’s harder to defend against. Plus of course, Tevez looks focused and thin, and has a wider range of match-winning qualities than the Bosnian carries. Get on the phone to your agent Edin, you’re the odd-man out.

Now that Jack Rodwell is officially a Manchester City player, more speculation will follow about Nigel De Jong’s future at the club. Whatever Rodwell’s potential is considered to be, at the moment he’s not close to being the influence the Dutchman is on Premier League games. As and when Gareth Barry returns from injury, De Jong will drop out of the side, but he’s a useful squad player. Tenacity and bite are really valuable commodities to have in a midfield, and he’s more capable than any of his teammates of injecting them into Mancini’s side.

Any assessment of Eden Hazard is redundant; we’ll pick that topic up at the end of September.

Stefan Savic just isn’t good enough to deputise for either Jolean Lescott or Vincent Kompany. Multiple times last season we saw Savic performing the ‘weak link’ role, and yesterday it was more of the same. Poor timing and a lack of defensive discipline – he was mercifully substituted at half-time to protect him from an inevitable second yellow.

Pablo Zabaleta is one of the most undervalued players in the league. Name any other full-back who can fit in on either flank and not look awkward. The Argentine is never spectacular, but City don’t need him to be – being defensively secure and providing some occasional attacking support are all that he’s needed for. And, invariably, he provides.

Regarding City’s alternative defensive system, let’s give it a couple of weeks before passing judgement.

Shall we stop proclaiming Fernando Torres to be ‘back’ after every goal he scores. Until he shows a greater contribution to the play as a whole, and drops the sulky teenager face, we’re not ready to accept that he’s the Liverpool version of himself just yet. He took his goal well, but there still needs to be more from him.

As mentioned on this site over the Summer, not enough attention has been paid to the defensive side of this Chelsea team. Buying lots of forwards is fine, and it gets you a lot of attention, but unless those players are operating off a solid base then it doesn’t actually count for very much. Roberto Di Matteo’s midfield were anonymous yesterday. John Obi Mikel, to be kind, looked very ordinary, and Frank Lampard barely made an impression on the game. Some of that is due to restructuring that was needed after Ivanovic’s departure, but not all of it. Must do better, or must bring in better – that part of the squad now looks very tired.

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