Chelsea improved upon the particular aspect of their game which started against Spurs last week—that of going a goal down, yet showing the resilience to stay in the game. Many on Reddit even joked that their life would be shining in no time if they had Conte advising (and likely assaulting) them with his words.
The half-time team talk seems to have been the difference maker for the Blues in the past two games as they’ve looked similar in terms of improvement both in the second half against Spurs, and City.
Conte’s men now lead the Premier League by a distance of three points from second placed Arsenal, at the very least until later today, when Liverpool take on Bournemouth with the potential to go to second themselves.
The game at the Etihad stadium was full of excitement in the buildup—the two managers were facing each other for the first time. Conte was relishing the chance to go against the man who he much admired for his philosophy on football, though I think that was merely a gentlemanly gesture, after having watched the game unfold.
The first half of the game was breathtaking to watch. Substandard defensive efforts from both parties made for a very un-substandard attacking verve shown by the forward players. Hazard had a quick fire-shot go just wide of the mark after stealing the ball from Diego Costa on the edge of the box—and then not many minutes later, he would go past City’s defence again, having been played through by Fabregas—starting in place of the injured Matic—only to go past the onrushing keeper and failing to pull it back successfully for a teammate, or even have a go at it himself.
This, however, did not occur before a fairly dubious controversy had taken place. A ball over the top from City found Azpilicueta’s head on Chelsea’s right flank, but the Spaniard uncharacteristically played it a bit long for his teammate David Luiz to chase. Sergio Agüero—close as always to Chelsea’s centre-backs—was witnessing the event unfold very carefully. And right when Azpilicueta had played the ball, the Argentinian took off.
As you can see, what happened next was, well, some quite phenomenal improvisation (and composure) from David Luiz. He ever so slightly moved his body to the left, but did so in such a fashion that it made it very difficult for the referee to decide on whether to give the foul. In any case, Anthony Taylor didn’t, and the game moved on.
Just before the break, City enjoyed a spell of dominance in possession, and capitalized—though not entirely due to their own merit. Having sprayed the pass wide, the men in light blue scampered to the Chelsea box, hopeful of getting to the end of the cross from the reportedly horrendous crosser, Jesus Navas. The Spain international delivered, and duly did not beat the first man. But this time, he didn’t need to.
Gary Cahill made the insensible decision to defend the ball, going inbound with vicious ferocity, with an acrobatic sort of something that actually wasn’t a bad spectacle, as far as own goals go. Moreover, it’d later be imitated by Jon Walters for Stoke City, albeit with a very important change in detail—he’d put it in the correct goal.
The second half started as the first half had finished, except City were even better at getting in behind the Chelsea backline. A flurry of through balls and gaping misses later, though, they could only watch as Fabregas played Costa in with a viciously beautiful 40-yard through ball, and the PL’s leading scorer manhandled Otamendi to finish clinically.
From there on in, Chelsea’s defence were suddenly formidable, their passing accurate, their movement, while on the ball and off it, sublime.
The next goal came as Chelsea defended a City attempt, and Alonso found Hazard, who then in turn found Costa—the striker was unstoppable at this point—and the no. 19 turned Otamendi quite spectacularly to find space right down the middle of the pitch, and play in Willian, literally, from the halfway line. A calm and ruthless finish followed, then a tribute to all those involved in the tragedy of Chapecoense was the theme of the celebration, which was classy from the Brazilian, to say the least.
By this point, it was all hands on deck for City. Iheanacho had come in for John Stones, and City made a hash of proceedings—and were duly punished, again. This time, it was a perfectly weighted ball from Alonso that set the counter on its way. Hazard went past Kolarov with the easiest of runs, and finished with devastating effect. It really was game over.
Onto extra time this game went, and I sat in front of the television nearly crying. How in the world had something ‘good’ finally been associated, and justly, with Chelsea? How have we gotten this gem of a manager, who seems to be similar to Mourinho, except without all the crappy, annoying bits?
But just as I was going to revere and take in this wonderful game of football (and Chelsea win) to my heart, the stupidity started.
I should mention that, until today, I always admired Sergio Agüero (I even had him as my profile pic on my computer). He was brilliant to watch, scored tons of goals, and had a really humble feel about him that was easy to see. I never saw (though many claim seemingly did) the conniving part of his game. But today, my entire perception of the Argentinian changed.
The tackle he made on David Luiz was not born out of frustration. It was borne out of pure evil. Many made the comment that if it had been Diego Costa making that tackle, there’d be talks of a 10-game suspension right now. I honestly couldn’t care less. It doesn’t matter how many games Agüero is suspended. His intent was easily noticeable, and it was to leave a permanent mark on David Luiz. These types of actions, if committed outside of a football pitch, are criminal offences, and punishable with jail time. It’ll be interesting to see what the F.A. eventually comes up with (fingers-crossed that it will only be a 4-game suspension or something close, sadly).
Regardless, though, I learned something important today: never judge a player by his appearance.