Clash of the Titans: Chelsea 2 - Manchester City 1
It was a putative clash of the titans at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, with the former Champions of England, Chelsea FC, hosting the once and possibly future champions from the city of Manchester. Titanic amounts of money and even larger egos were at stake, pitting the noveau riche Russian oil Oligarch (who made his money the old fashioned way, by stealing it) versus the nouveau riche Middle Eastern oil oligarch (who made his money the new fashioned way, by fleecing the West). All eyes in the football world were turned squarely on London, as the title bout held repercussions up and down the table. Straight to the match observations we go: o Chelsea had it all to play for yesterday, entering the contest 10 points behind City in the table. A victory would also ensure that Chelsea moved to third in the standings. So how could they possibly have let the game begin so disastrously, allowing Mario Balotelli to waltz into the goal mouth, not a care in the world, and open the scoring before the home fans could even dry off their seats? It was shocking defending, even by Chelsea's standards this year, as Balotelli made Branislav Ivanovic and Petr Cech look like rank amateurs on his way to scoring a goal in his eighth straight start. o City opened the game looking like a schoolyard bully toying with the 80 pound weakling. Confident in possession, knocking the ball around this as if it was a Sunday kickabout at the park, City looked relaxed and comfortable in the hostile Stamford Bridge environment. On the rare occasion when they didn't have the ball, the Sky Blues were quick to close Chelsea down and forced repeated cheap turnovers from the home side, who opened the game looking almost as nervous as a very short nun at a penguin shoot. o Memo from the Misleading Statistics Department: According to ESPN, by the game's 18 minute mark Chelsea had controlled fully 60% of the possession. While not disputing the statistic, the question I asked sounded something like "Who Cares?," as Chelsea had done absolutely nothing with the ball while they had it. Meanwhile, City was dominating the game with their measly 40%, creating chance after chance, and were unfortunate to be ahead by only one goal at the time. o Raul Meireles' goal, coming on Chelsea's first on-target shot of the evening, seemed to settle the Blues a bit, and brought some genuine intrigue back into the contest. One would be hard pressed to claim that they took the game to the visitors, but the Londoners did seem to recover a bit of their swagger with the equalizer. Conversely, City lost a good deal of their offensive sparkle as the game wore on into the second half, and were looking disjointed at best when Gael Clichy got the heave ho for his second yellow card of the evening. o Somewhat stunningly, AVB's Chelsea looked like a team afraid to go for the win before Joleon Lescott's handball bailed them out, a mistake leading to Chelsea's winner. On a personal note, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a Frank Lampard goal so much, and as a result I won't even refer to him a "Fat Frank." So I'll leave it at this: Hefty Frank smacked home the late winner from the penalty spot, taking all three points for the Blues, putting them squarely back into the title picture, and bringing City back down to earth after their sky high start to the season. o Ian Darke said it best on ESPN, but last night was the kind of test City will need to pass more than a couple times between now and the end of the season to secure their title credentials. The Red half of Manchester has been there before: on the road, down a man, rain beating down, and needing to hold out for more than 30 minutes to gain a crucial point. On the basis of Monday night's performance, you'd have to give them a D. o And the tests don't get any easier for either team in the near-term future: with City - Arsenal coming up this weekend, followed shortly thereafter by a mid-week Spurs - Chelsea match, this particular fan will be hoping for some draws. This is farlieonfootie for December 13.