Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chelsea v Manchester City, March 15, Premier League

Mark Hughes was so good with Blackburn that he was often touted as the natural successor to Sir Alex at United. With Manchester City he’s looked so lost so consistently that I would be not be surprised if he is eased out at the end of the season. Unless he can do something in the UEFA Cup, but more on that later in this post.

This was Chelsea’s game from the beginning till the end. Some of the football they played matched the heights they had reached in the early days of the Scolari reign. Barring Deco, who limped out injured in the first half, every player looked sharp and the team gelled superbly. That they only scored one is from one point of view a mere statistic, but from another a major cause for concern. Which point of view is more justified will be evident in the coming weeks, depending on their ability to start converting more of their chances.

Which calls for a minor correction to the earlier statement where I claimed that all players looked sharp. The strikers did not and while there positional play was great and they were often at the right places at the right time, they didn’t look threatening enough. To be fair, both have them have seen some sort of a revival of form, but I still feel that Anelka needs to show some more leadership while Drogba is a long long way away from his best. For one, his ability to win every ball played to him has waned significantly and the speed with which he used to execute his finishes is at a fraction of what we have seen in the past. What this means is that defenders often find enough time to put themselves in place for a block or get a tackle in.

What I truly enjoyed was Essien’s goal. Nobody raves about Lampard now as they did three seasons ago but the fact is that he has been the heart beat of the Chelsea side this season. He usually tends to disappear a bit between the start of the second half till the sixtieth minute or so and invariably that is when other teams have their best spells against Chelsea. But when he is in the thick of action he is just great with linking up play and creating chances for the wingers as well as his strikers.

Man City’s defense went to sleep for a moment when they left Essien unmarked as Lampard was taking a free kick near the centre circle and Fat Frank saw the opportunity and played a perfect pass to Essien who swung cleverly at the ball to divert the ball into the corner of the net to leave Given stranded. What joy! First Eduardo has made a stunning comeback from injury and now Essien seems to have settled down on the pitch like he was never away. His impact and influence was awesome apart from the goal itself and while I felt sorry to see the very effective Mikel on the bench, he obviously cannot match Essien in terms of sheer ability to control a game.

Michael Ballack has settled down to playing a supporting role in this Chelsea squad and he keeps things simple and focuses on protecting his defense and linking up play. While his contribution is significant, it has taken a little bit of an edge off his game and he looks unlikely to produce moments of brilliance like we used to expect from him in the past. His heading abilities, though not completely vanished, seem a bit blunted but I guess it may be part of the package of his greatness that he goes about doing his job without too many complaints.

It seems futile to comment on City, though the only excuse you can make for them is that they lack quality strikers when Bellamy is missing. Yet they could easily have got one more if they had planned well in January and the fact is that they did indeed significantly bolster their squad. The biggest problem I see with them is that they play ever so often without any determination or motivation and Robinho sort of personifies this attitude. When he’s been brilliant, he’s looked by far the best footballer in this league but those instances have been far too few in recent months. They deserved a spanking but got away with a gentle pull of the ear. Whatever, Hughes must realize internally that the returns he is getting are far from what should be expected from the lineup of players at his disposal and the onus is on him to fix it.

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