I think it’s fair to say that Fernando Torres was the star of the game against Manchester City. The Spaniard showed glimpses of his former self, taking players on, creating chances, rattling the cross bar and finally scoring in the dying embers of the game to secure a vital three points for the west Londoners.
It’s been said that in the last few seasons that teams haven’t lost many more times than four and then gone on to lift the Premier League trophy come May (in fact since the 2009-10 season no team has lost more than six league games and won the mot illustrious prize in English football).
Manchester City (actually both Manchester clubs) have now lost three, which, although not completely debilitating as far as title hops are concerned, has to do something for their place as favourites to win the championship.
So how did the second favourites for the Premier League beat the favourites at Stamford Bridge on Sunday?
There’s a lot to say for luck. Chelsea’s second goal came at the worst possible time for City – with virtually no time to respond. Torres' winner had more than just a touch of fortune, but luck is only part of it – Chelsea, in fact, made their own luck.
When the teams lined up at Chelsea, there really was very little to choose between them. Up front City seemed to pip Chelsea for form, with Sergio Aguero in scintillating form, while Torres has never risen to the heights he did in red for the Londoners.
The midfield for both teams was a case of extreme talent, with both teams boasting internationals of youth and experience on the wing and down the middle. If you had one worry, for City, though, it was their defence. Without Vincent Kompany they always look less secure at the back, and despite Martín Demichelis’ pedigree, you always wondered how he would cope in the Premier League, at the age of 32.
Chelsea, on the other hand, boasted the English pair of John Terry and Gary Cahill, in the centre of defence and managed to hand a start to the previously injured Ashley Cole. The first half was end to end, before Chelsea finally took the initiative.
Both teams seemed to be close to creating chances but failed to get any of them away, Chelsea managed to take three shots at goal, City only managed one. That right there shows you what Chelsea were doing correctly, considering the way that City dismantled United at home 4-1.
In the first half, Manchester City enjoyed almost 60 percent of the possession, but such was the resolve of the Chelsea defence, that they didn’t have any clear cut chances, just one shot from outside the box. City controlled the ball and seemed to be holding all of the possession in the final third, but Chelsea stood firm.
Torres had, arguably, the chance of the season, as he was found in the box, alone, having just beaten the offside trap, with what seemed like an eternity to turn the ball past Joe Hart and open his Premier League account for the campaign.
But it appeared as though he had too much time, as he ballooned the ball over the bar, and into the rafters. It seemed like it was going to be another one of those days for the Spaniard, but City weren’t that lucky.
Shortly after his outrageous miss, Torres found himself on the right wing with the ball and three or four players between himself and goal. With a few quick touches, and changes of pace, Torres drove to the touchline and shot a seemingly perfect pass through the City defence and Andre Schürrle tapped the ball past Joe Hart, as Stamford Bridge erupted.
What’s strange about this is that a look at the average position of the teams shows that throughout the match Aguero was in a much more advanced role than Torres.
Yet, in the final third Torres seemed to be a huge influence, while Aguero was unable to get hold of the ball. Jose Mourinho’s men congested the midfield, and created a brick wall around their box, which made it very difficult for City’s players to play the one touch football, which seemed so effective against Manchester United at home.
Another explanation for why Torres wasn’t in a position that was as advanced as his City counterpart, was because he was getting involved in the build up play, defending from the front, and making multiple tackles.
Shortly after Schürrle’s goal, Torres again found himself with the ball, in the City box, with four players to beat. With seemingly no form of support he shifted the ball onto his stronger foot and fired it at goal. Hart was well and truly beaten, but the ball rebounded off the post and back into play.
Surely Torres could not have come closer with these two shots on goal. The second half was very much the same, apart from an exquisite assist by Samir Nasri, which found Aguero who, despite being at a wide angle, and on his weaker foot smashed the ball passed Petr Cech, on 50 minutes. Chelsea again seemed to sit back, soak up the pressure. But this wasn’t a vintage Mourinho tactic.
They played with flair; the game was pass and move; when they had the ball there were few long balls, and build up play was excellent. It seemed like the draw would be a fair result, both teams were holding the ball well, and battling it out in the midfield.
The game produced five yellow cards, as neither team was willing to give up on any ball, lunging into challenge after challenge. St the same time, both teams were quick and nimble with the ball, meaning that City committed 14 fouls, and Chelsea committed 10.
With two minutes to go (plus stoppage time) the game seemed to be winding down. Both teams were leaving spaces in the midfield and the ball seemed to ping from player to player, with not much direction, until Willian, a 66th minute substitute for the goal scorer, lofted the ball up front. City had at least two players with Torres. And then it happened.
It seemed to be a comedy of errors, not for the City fans of course, but for the neutral, as Matija Nastasić headed the ball back to Joe Hart. Or, rather, he headed the ball back to where Hart had been 30 seconds before. By now, Hart was just outside of his box, and watched with horror as the ball floated over his head. Torres, ran past Hart, beating Demichelis, and side footed the ball into the back of the net, leaving City with no chance to retaliate.
There’s something to be said for the away form of Manchester City at the moment, but tactically Mourinho just got it right on Sunday, but it wasn’t a defensively minded team, it was a balanced team. They defended well, and attacked well. Torres is coming out of his shell at the moment.
A few games does not a world class player make, but he’s getting there. Some more games like this, a whole season like this, and then suddenly £50million seems like a steal.
What’s not certain is whether or not Torres will continue this form for the rest of the season, or whether Chelsea can play like that every single game, but what is for certain is that the title Race, right now, is wide open.
Anyone above Manchester United is in for a shout at the top four, and I think right now, you’d say any one of five teams could end up lifting the trophy.
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