Verdict: Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1
Goals: Meireles 34, Lampard 82 pen for Chelsea. Balotelli 2 for City.
City succumbed to their first league defeat despite taking the lead courtesy of Mario Balotelli after two minutes. Decisions went against us but it would be wrong to lay all the blame on the referee.
There was a similarity to the Real Madrid v Barcelona match at the weekend. City pressed high up the pitch, scoring early and unsettling the opposition. However such pressing is hard to sustain and eventually the other team came into the game and finished the stronger.
Mancini has won plaudits for his management this season while Villas-Boas has been questioned. Yet this match saw the Portuguese outmanouvre our Italian tactician.
City were clearly correct to press high up initially, making the breakthrough and cutting through Chelsea with incisive passing and movement. This was Balotelli and Aguero at their best.
After nearly bursting through on one occasion, the Argentine succeeded a second time only to pull his shot horribly wide. Silva ought to have had a penalty when tripped by Bosingwa. At this stage it looked only a matter of time before a second goal arrived.
Yet once Chelsea started to exert their traditional power in midfield, where Barry and Yaya were outnumbered by Romeu, Ramires and Meireles, the tide began to turn. City were never again to pose a significant threat.
There appeared two problems which Mancini failed to address. The first was the defensive midfield pairing of Barry and Yaya. They had been excellent against a deep lying Norwich, where they could face the opposition and dictate play.
Yet when opposing midfielders are running beyond them or playing balls in behind, then neither is quick enough on the turn, or at tracking back and closing down any gaps. Meireles leaving Yaya trailing to score the equaliser was the most obvious example.
It’s been said that Mancini no longer requires Nigel de Jong as City play a more progressive game this season. That’s a fairweather view for when City are dictating games.
In difficult games like Chelsea away, de Jong was required to shore up the midfield, and retain possession with his short passing game. It was frustrating to have him sat on the bench until after Clichy had been sent off.
The second problem had started out as our biggest asset, namely the pairing of Mario and Aguero. Great when we’re dominating possession, peripheral when we’re having to dig in. Dzeko’s recent good work in linking up play might have been a better bet, with Mario in particular often failing to hold the ball up.
It was clear Mancini had gone with the pace of Mario and Aguero to pierce the Chelsea defence. Yet the point in the first half where Kompany and Yaya started hoisting long balls forward signalled the end of our dominance.
Neither Mario or Aguero were going to have success in the air against Terry and Ivanovic. On a wet night, balls over the top simply sped through to Cech.
None of our three main strikers offer a great deal when we don’t have the ball and, whisper it quietly, City could have done with an in form Tevez up front. In his absence we should have gone with another body in midfield.
Yaya, who increasingly struggled in the defensive role, could have been pushed forward to give Romeu some problems, with de Jong coming in at the back. Having taken the early lead only one of Mario and Aguero was required.
Even bringing Johnson on, would have given better defensive protection on the flanks while retaining the threat of pace in the attack.
Maybe Mancini was reluctant to make changes early in the game, particularly after we had started so brightly. Yet something needed to be done before Clichy was sent off.
Chelsea were at their strongest while the frustration was that City could have been better, and avoided the defeat. However, it needs to be remembered that we’re still top of the league.
Attention now switches to the game against Arsenal. Three points is essential to maintain our confidence. Hopefully Nasri and de Jong will be restored to the starting line-up as we look to put this defeat behind us.