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Chelsea 0 – 0 Man City: Rafa returns with a tame show

  Two teams managed by 2 Italians a week ago, one the Champions of England and the other the Champions of Europe; two teams, with an overdose of riches and talent on show, who have more or less been knocked out of the Champions League. Chelsea and...

Two teams managed by 2 Italians a week ago, one the Champions of England and the other the Champions of Europe; two teams, with an overdose of riches and talent on show, who have more or less been knocked out of the Champions League. Chelsea and Manchester City battled out a dull draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday night as Rafa Benitez’s Blue avatar took off to an uninspiring start, where the fans were much more interested in showing their loyalty to his predecessor.

Benitez did not have much time to gel with the team and so the ex- Liverpool boss named an unchanged lineup. The absence of Terry left Luiz and Ivanovic in central defense. There were three Spaniards in the starting XI with Azpilicueta also included alongside Mata and Torres; the ‘Mazacar’ in midfield was maintained.

Mancini, whose job is equally threatened at City, kept Carlos Teves on the bench. The much professed super-sub Edin Dzeko started upfront in a 4-2-3-1, with Ageuro, Milner and Silva in the midfield. Barry and Yaya Toure played in front of the defense that comprised of Kompany, Nastasic, Kolarov and Zabaleta.

Both Defences on Top

There was no shortage of ammunition in the attacking ranks of both teams. Where Torres was supported by Hazard and Mata in attack for Chelsea, City had the combination of Aguero and Dzeko. But still it was the defensive department of both the teams that came up trumps. For all the frantic runs and dribbles in midfield, neither team had a clear shot at goal, and this was entirely due to the aerial prowess of the City defenders and the strong tackling of their Chelsea counterparts.

Kompany and Nastasic have formed a good partnership as both of them are equally good in the air. Torres mostly hung over Nastasic, but the ex-Viola man won every aerial duel. When Torres had the beating of Nastasic for pace, Kompany was there to cover up behind.

Similarly for Chelsea, Luiz and Ivanovic have formed a good make-shift combination. Luiz though erratic at times, has the composure to dribble out of tough situations. And Ivanovic is simply a brute in the air. He dominated Aguero and Dzeko, but was often covered-up by Ashley Cole who again had a terrific game at the back.

Contrasting wingers Silva and Milner             

Though City started a 4-2-3-1, their shape became quite lopsided early on. Dzeko started to drop very deep in order to pull out David Luiz from the defense, and this worked well to some extent. Aguero then took to running straight at the heart of defense that had only Ivanovic now. But the Argentine’s runs were well tracked by Mikel, and Chelsea were able to break up and start the play well.

The other aspect of City’s attack was through Silva. The Spaniard as usual took up a very central role and provided no width whatsoever. Silva was playing almost as a central playmaker and was often able to link up smoothly with Aguero. This position of Silva’s was mainly due to the deep drifting of Dzeko. But due to Silva’s lack of threat on the right flank, Ashley Cole was not much exposed. Cole thus spent the match either tracking Zabaleta or initiating Chelsea’s attacks.

Another reason for Silva’s central positioning was the presence of Eden Hazard on that flank for Chelsea. Hazard also takes up a central position when off the ball, and he is often the target for the defenders when Chelsea counter-attack. So Silva was positioned to cutoff these out-balls for Chelsea, and similarly Hazard was positioned to track the Spaniard. But it can be easily said that neither of the 2 did any good to their reputation of weak defensive tracking.

James Milner has often been criticized by the nation for his national team performance. But this season the Englishman stands out in his performances. Mancini positioned him in an unusually high station on the left side of attack, and Milner rarely ventured back in defense.

Milner was always seen in the space left by Mata in front of Azpilicueta. His presence left the young Spanish fullback always in defense, curbing his natural attacking instincts. But still ‘Azpi’ did a terrific job in defense and was often the one to put in last ditch tackles in defense. But his limited attacking ventures affected the game heavily as Mata had to come into deep positions to get the ball and start the attack.

Oscar on Toure, the Brazilian triumphs again

The main battle of the game was in central midfield where Yaya Toure played the entire game in deep midfield role. The Ivorian was not told by Mancini to bombard upfront even in the second half, and this was mainly due to the presence of Oscar. Oscar has always been given the responsibility to track the opposition’s deep midfielder, as was the case with Pirlo and Arteta. Similarly the Brazilian was seen marking Toure in this match.

But this is where the 20 year old’s intelligence showed; Oscar would have been easily shrugged off by the huge Ivorain if we would have stuck to him closely. So Oscar always kept a close watch on Toure but never went into tackles and tried taking the ball from him. This led to Toure always making a horizontal pass when on the ball, and Oscar’s presence prevented him from instigating attacks in his usual self. This is more evident from the fact that Toure’s passes to Barry were City’s most completed passes on the night.

Substitutions

The substitutions made by Mancini were not his usual bold ones, but rather like-for-like changes. Teves and Balotelli came on for Dzeko and Aguero. As soon as Teves came on, Rafa could be seen telling his defense to stay much deeper. So Chelsea went into a much more defensive shape and soaked in all of City’s attacks.

Benitez’s substitution affected the game much more. Hazard went off for Victor Moses. Moses was a livewire in City’s half and ran directly at Kolarov at left back. The balls to Torres improved much more as the City defense was caught on the backfoot due to Moses’s pace.

The take on Rafa and Mancini

The result of the game was fair as none of the team’s deserved more. The Rafa-Torres factor was much talked about in the pre-match but as Benitez had mentioned, Torres had excelled at Liverpool only due to the service provided by Gerrard, with the weight and pace of the ball being the key factor. A Gerrad-esque player is not present currently in Chelsea’ ranks, as the front 3 behind Torres are much more direct players than Stevie-G. Again the absence of Lampard is going to be questioned at this juncture.

City on the other than are just going through a lean patch, and would definitely have scored against any other defense. James Milner and David Silva are providing contrasting styles on either flank, and just the injection of pace and intention by Yaya Toure was all that was missing or the Eastlanders.

Top of the Match: Cesar Azpilicueta (Rafa always gets out the best of Spaniards, can he be the one this time)

Flop of the Match: Edin Dzeko (and most definitely not Fernando Torres, who amidst loads of criticism, put in a spirited performance)

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