Manchester City 1 Chelsea 3 – Saturday 3 December 2016
An ungodly hour of an early start for the travelling contingent heading to Manchester for the TV friendly 12.30 kick off. But at least the round trip could be completed within regular train service times. A massive game for both teams, and as suggested by one of my travelling companions, we were probably going to be watching the likely title winners today.
Only the one forced change in the starting lineup, Fabregas replacing the injured Matic. So it was the ever present Courtois in goal, Azpilicueta, Luiz and Cahill in that 3 man defence, supported by Moses and Alonso on the wings. With Fabregas drafted in to pair up with Kante in midfield, it was Pedro and Hazard with the fancy footwork around big Diego Costa up front. On the bench were Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Oscar, Willian and Batshuayi.
The proceedings began with a poignant and impeccably hushed one minute silence for the victims of the sad events in Colombia, which saw many members of the Chapecoense football team killed in a plane crash as they travelled to their cup final. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the tragedy.
Kick off, and it didn’t take long for the first of the predictably compulsory tackles on Hazard, this time by Fernandinho, before anyone even had time to stretch their legs. Otherwise a cagey and scrappy start to the game, plenty of loose ball being fought over, pretty feisty stuff at both ends. It was fast and furious, a battle of the tackles as well, as late challenges were flying in from both sides, leaving players writhing on the ground in their wake.
But while we were fighting for possession of the ball, we weren’t able to carve out too many clear cut chances, a shot just wide from Hazard the nearest we came in the first 15 minutes. Worryingly though, City were able to slip past our wide boys a couple of times, and play a decent ball in behind our defence. But Luiz was doing a fine job mopping up in front of our goal.
That worry turned to fear on 25 minutes when a De Bruyne free kick eventually found the back of the net, only for Fernandinho’s header to be ruled offside. Being positioned next to the home fans in the 2nd tier it was more than amusing to witness the instant about turn in the goading and friendly w*nker waves!
Really entertaining end to end stuff, Hazard and Aguero not able to take their chances. And on the half hour Aguero found himself on a decent goal bound run, but he didn’t reckon on bouncing off David Luiz before he could make it as far as our box. Loud boos ringing out from the home crowd, as referee Anthony Taylor dismissed the challenge. I turned to my neighbour and we both agreed that Luiz had taken Aguero out. Hilarious!
A cracking match, anybody’s game, and thoroughly enjoyable to watch, if not a tad frustrating not to have already nabbed a goal. But as we approached half time City seemed to be getting closer, it was frantic stuff in front of goal with last ditch stops. More boos when a penalty shout went unheeded by the ref when Kante nicked the ball off Gundogan in the box.
But City kept pushing and in the end it took a crazy own goal from Gary Cahill for the deadlock to be broken, flicking a crossed ball by Navas into the roof of the net. Shame, and with no time to equalise, we went into the break a goal down, with the home fans still booing!
Second half and no changes, although it wasn’t long before Willian came on to replace the fleet footed Pedro, who wasn’t able to shake off an issue with his ankle sustained during the first half.
The game soon picked up to the frantic levels of the first half, pretty much end to end, although City were carving out the more likely chances, De Bruyne having a shot blocked by Courtois. Still anybody’s game, but only while there was just the one goal in it, if City had taken any of the chances presented to them it could have been game over. But for a short spell we rode our luck, and when De Bruyne blasted the ball at the crossbar when an open goal was in front of him, City must have been thinking they were never going to score a goal of their own, despite their lead.
An hour gone and the equaliser finally came, as it had always threatened to. A familiar Fabregas visionary glance up to spot Diego moving into space. As the ball dropped and with only the shell shocked Otamendi to beat Diego bullied his way into the box, round the hapless defender, and planted the ball past Bravo straight into the back of the net, while they were desperately trying to claim a hand ball. Scenes in the away end, as bodies and celery went flying everywhere, although the home fans didn’t appreciate being showered with the much maligned vegetable!
While we seemed to be making some silly errors at the back at times, we looked menacing going forward. Any chance to break and we were able to spread the play across the width of the pitch and stretch their defence. It was a delight to watch our boys operate. At the other end, De Bruyne and Aguero had chances of their own, but thankfully we were able to snuff out any ideas they had of getting on the score sheet.
Such an exciting game, evenly poised, and I would have happily taken the point at this stage. But every time we seemed to be riding our luck at the back, it just opened City up for a devastating counter attack. And with 20 minutes left to play Hazard and then Costa linked up to bring the ball forward before setting up Willian to run like the clappers towards the goal before, as cool as you like, carving the ball between the chasing defenders and the keeper and into the back of the net. Happy, happy, happy days, and top of the league!
Into the last 10 minutes and despite the home fans springing to life trying to urge on their side, they just weren’t able to get the ball into the back of the net and not able to take advantage of our defensive slip ups, whereas we looked ready to pounce while they were still wondering why their last chance went begging. No doubt frustrating for Guardiola and his boys as they probably felt they deserved more. But that’s the beauty of football!
With the clock winding down and as much as I was enjoying the match, as any nervous partisan fan can with such a close game, I really was hoping for the final whistle, or better still, a third goal to seal the victory. So it was a bit concerning to see Diego take a lie down in their box while the play was continuing at the other end. But eventually he limped off, to applause and cries of Diego, Diego. He was replaced by Chalobah, and good to see another few minutes of game time for our talented academy youngster.
Into the final minutes and City seemed to be throwing the kitchen sink at us, but we were shutting up shop while still looking for that killer counter attacking opportunity ourselves. Last minute of regular time and there it was, the perfect goal, Alonso with a superb dinked pass forward that landed just in front of Eden Hazard, who had long since slipped his markers. He was on his way to sending the ball soundly into the back of the net, nothing Bravo could do about it, and assuring us of the brilliant win. Cue mayhem in the away end, bundles of bodies all over the shop, while the home fans were leaving in their droves.
Into 6 minutes of stoppage time, the win assured, we just needed to keep possession and see it out. The final time waste change came when Batshuayi came on for goal hero Hazard.
But just when we thought we were heading towards the final whistle, City’s frustrations boiled over and instead we were counting seconds away to a round of pushing and shoving, all triggered by a dangerous two footed lunge by Aguero on David Luiz. Understandably upset, but to put in such a reckless challenge on a fellow player is an outright disgrace. He was rightly given his marching orders, but not before Chalobah had steamed in on the snide Aguero and shoved him unceremoniously to the ground. Meanwhile, Fernandinho had Fabregas by the throat before pushing him over the advertising hoardings and he too was sent kicking and screaming from the pitch.
A dramatic end to the game, one where City were undone by three superbly executed counter attacking strikes. Eight wins on the bounce for us, and still top of the league. With hugs all round as we left the ground, the gathered travelling fans were once again treated to a great team performance, all orchestrated by our tactical master and passionate manager. Antonio…..Antonio……
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