Changes will have to come later for Chelsea, who saw the debut of their new manager fail to yield any correction of course. With no significant changes to personnel, formation, or style, Chelsea saw no significant changes to their results, drawn at home on Sunday by Manchester City, 0-0.
Both teams will be content with the result, though each have reason to think they should have gotten more. Manchester City controlled much of a match in which, against a struggling opponent, they could have pushed harder for a winning goal. Instead, they seemed content to adopt a more level posture, an approach that has cost them first in the Premier League.
Chelsea can assuage themselves with having held the defending champions at arm’s length, though there was a time not so long ago when any points dropped at Stamford Bridge would have been seen as a failure. Given the talent in this squad, there’s no reason that attitude should change. Instead, Chelsea’s fall swoon continues, with new manager Rafa Benítez’s Chelsea tenure beginning on a mixed note.
Man of the Match: As in most Manchester City matches, Yaya Touré was the game’s best player, though on a day when there were few good chances on goal, neither side saw enough offensive excellent or defensive failures to provide much distinction between players. Touré, however, was his typically dependable self in defense while providing the orchestrating presence high in attack that helped City maintain a majority of possession.
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
Neither team wanted it more – Years ago, when former Giants, Cowboys, and Jets head coach Bill Parcells had a seat on ESPN’s Sunday NFL pregame show, he was asked to pick a winner in one of the day’s games. Almost dismissively, he offered “usually the team that wants it more wins the game.” Particularly in these middle-of-the-seasons, low stakes affairs, it’s the team that can muster some will that takes a result.
On Sunday, neither Chelsea nor Manchester City wanted more than they got, and it showed. Chelsea’s only good chance came in the 61st minute when Fernando Torres skied a shot over the bar from 12 yards. City’s best opportunity was a first half counterattack started and finished by Pablo Zabaleta, who drilled a 14-yard shot right at Joe Hart.
Manchester City was happy with a road point, while Chelsea seemed content to draw during this transition phase. Add that to the predilections of the two managers involved, and we should have known to bet heavily on 0-0 the moment Benítez was appointed.
Too soon for changes at Chelsea – Benítez only had three days to prepare – a little more than a day since he was formally announced on Friday – so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Sunday’s team looked identical to one Roberto Di Matteo would have selected. It’s going to take a little more time on the training ground for Benítez to develop any firm personnel preferences. The formation (4-2-3-1) is likely to stay the same, regardless.
If there’s anything to infer from Benítez’s choices, it’s that Gary Cahill might lose some time (Cesar Azpilicueta’s start pushing Branislav Ivanovic into central defense) and Fernando Torres will keep getting chances to justify his purchase (the Spaniard back into the starting XI after missing out mid-week). But Di Matteo could have just as easily made those selections. Chelsea’s defense has a been rotating all season, and Torres was always likely to come back for today’s match.
So much skill, so little danger – The teams combined for six shots on target (five from Manchester City), though that number slightly exaggerates the drama. Though the match had a nice flow over the last 30 minutes (Chelsea counterattacks becoming the game’s only threat), Petr Cech and Joe Hart were left with little to do. City, pushing Chelsea’s defense back into their comfortable, deep posture, was left to make the best of half-chances, while Chelsea’s counterattacks always lost steam as they approached City’s penalty area (frequently, at the point Fernando Torres became involved).
Packaged for takeaway
- For the second match in a row, David Luiz had a strong, mistake-free day, though he almost opened himself up for criticism in the 92nd minute when he put a shoulder into a charging Mario Balotelli, taking him down 19 yards from goal. Somewhat inexplicably, referee Chris Foy produced a yellow card for Balotelli, presumably saying the clear contact was exaggerated by the City attacker.
- At the other end, Vincent Kompany was man of the match-caliber (he earned Gary Neville’s honors) three days after leaving the Etihad on crutches after City’s draw with Real Madrid.
- James Milner got the start on the left instead of Samir Nasri, who dressed but never appeared. Predictably, Milner gave a steady performance that failed to alter the game. Whereas Nasri might have won the game for Roberto Mancini, at least Milner didn’t lose it.
- Edin Dzeko got a rare league start, a reward for his recent substitute’s heroics. Unfortunately for the Bosnian attacker, he did little to suggest he should get more of Carlos Tévez’s playing time.
- Chelsea’s only official shot on goal was a 30-plus-yard direct kick from David Luiz that had no chance of beating Joe Hart.
- The result gives Manchester United first place in the Premier League. City sits second with West Brom allowed to stay third place ahead of Chelsea.