Sunday, September 14, 2008

City 1 Chelsea 3

Whilst the gulf in finances may be in our favour, yesterday was an example that we still have some way to go to bridge the gulf in quality between ourselves and the upper echelon of the Premier League.

The day started so well, with a carnival atmosphere around and in the ground to herald the arrival of Robinho. The £32.5 million Brazilian made his debut, replacing Michael Johnson in the line-up and giving the line-up a very positive feel and the game kicked amidst a party-like atmosphere.

For the first quarter of an hour we took the game to Chelsea, with Robinho always looking to be involved and the visitors perhaps starting a little cautiously. It was on the quarter hour mark that we took the lead as, inevitably, Robinho struck a free-kick with the aid of a slight deflection beyond the stranded Cech.

The euphoria only lasted a few minutes though as Chelsea struck back from a set piece. A goalward header rebounding fortunately off Joe Cole straight into the path of Carvalho who fired passed the helpless Hart.

Although 1-1 at half-time, Chelsea's intentions were clear to see and they could have gone into the break ahead and they started the second half with equal purpose. They took the lead with a goal from Frank Lampard after some neat play in the build up before a smart finish allowed him to strike beyond Hart into the far corner.

A glorious opportunity to pull back to 2-2 was squandered when a counter attack caught Chelsea cold, but a poor pass from Wright-Phillips checked Ireland's run on goal and allowed Chelsea to block a shot which really should have put us level.

We would not get another opportunity in the game, as Anelka left Dunne static to latch onto Cole's through ball to poke past Hart and take the points, making Chelsea odds on favourites for the Premier League in the progress.

There was time late on for the inconsistent Mark Halsey to show John Terry a straight red for a professional foul, which was a poor decision given the proximity of the passage of play to goal and one which I imagine will be overturned.

Not quite a reality check then as some in the press have made it to be, but more an indication of how strong Chelsea can be this season, and with the quality available in our ranks we will be too strong for most sides in this league over the course of the season but talk of the top four may be premature.

Robinho impressed yesterday, and his quality was there for all to see. Lacking match sharpness, he was still able to have a big impact on the game. Always looking for the ball, he picked the right option in terms of passing and involving other players. He has an abundance of tricks, but did not use them needlessly, only when the situation demanded.

Linking well with Jo (as you'd imagine), he brings other players into the game well and struck up a good understanding with Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland - who in particular had a great first half, and it will be good to see his inter-play with Petrov once he returns from injury.

In some respects it was unfortunate that we came across Chelsea yesterday. The appointment of Scolari seems to finally have brought the attacking displays that Abramovich sought from both Mourinho and Grant, and yesterday's performance from them was one to savour.

Attacking with intent and purpose, they were clinical in their execution when it mattered and ultimately we had no answer to it. An obvious tactic that Scolari has brought is the licence given to full-backs Cole and Bosingwa - who play almost as auxilliary wingers with just a back two pairing of Carvalho and Terry, with Mikel stationed just in front of them as the defensive unit.

Time and time again, the space that out wide that Chelsea enjoyed was significant enough to keep us on the back foot and we really struggled to cope or provide enough support to the overworked pairing of Zabaleta and Ball.

The central trio of Cole, Lampard and Deco provided superb movement, marrying this with the simplicity of their passing game. Lampard at the heart of everything, with Deco - an absolute steal at just £8 million from Barcelona, oozing quality.

It was apparant that we missed Martin Petrov, who would have provided a further dimension on the left and offered something different to the more central attacking trio, and also Michael Johnson who if he had played alongside the impressive Kompany, would have provided a greater link between the defence and midfield than Hamman managed.

Elano, as predicted, was the odd man out, and did not appear to cut a happy figure on the bench as he was not even called upon. The attacking potency we now have is evident though, and Jo linked well with all three of the attacking trio, but a concern must be his goal return as he does not look to be a natural finished. It is still early days for him though, so time may yet tell.

Zabaleta's debut was solid enough, but he struggled against the Chelsea attacking threat, and was coming off the back of a long journey to make his debut alongside players he had not had any playing time with.

Despite the defeat yesterday, it is the positives that have to be taken from it of course and if the fixture list had thrown up different opponents yesterday, the outcome would in all likelihood have been a different one.

Expectations are of course now sky high, and rightly so, but overnight success is hard to achieve, and whilst a good season is on the cards for us, if Chelsea are to be the standard bearers of what we want to achieve, the evidence at present is that we have significant work still to do.

vote it up!

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