Loss to Chelsea not a disaster for City

Posted by David Mooney

On a night when Manchester City needed their big performers to turn up in order to put some distance between themselves and their visitors Chelsea, the Blues struggled as too many things just went wrong. In the end, it allowed the visitors to stroll to a 1-0 victory -- which should, in truth, have been more comfortable than it was in the end.

- Brewin: Three things: Man City vs. Chelsea
- Report: Manchester City 0-1 Chelsea

The actual result isn't a disaster for City; the reverse meant that the Blues didn't go back to the top of the Premier League, but remain two points off it and still to face leaders Arsenal at their place. It has completely closed any breathing space Manuel Pellegrini's men had, however, with Monday evening's visitors who are only behind the Chilean's side on goal difference alone -- which is the narrowest of narrow margins. Though ask any City fan and they'll tell you how important goal difference can be; it can decide titles.

Any pre-match fears that Jose Mourinho would come and park the proverbial bus in front of the Chelsea goal were realised -- but only for the opening quarter of an hour or so. City had started the brighter, with only a few wayward efforts to show for their early dominance of possession. But this is where Pellegrini got it wrong -- expecting his counterpart to shut the game down, he invited the away side to attack, by sticking with his 4-4-2 and having a midfield pair of Yaya Toure and Martin Demichelis.

Quickly, Chelsea discovered they were outnumbering the Blues in midfield and soon the game swung into their favour. Toure was hounded on every touch he had. Demichelis struggled with the pace of the game, but also copped for some flak that wasn't merited, as the few times the Ivorian actually did have space was down to the Argentine relieving pressure.

The star of the show was undoubtedly a visiting player who had been a City target back when the Blues were reigning champions and Roberto Mancini was in charge of the chequebook: Eden Hazard. It's not often that Pablo Zabaleta is run ragged over an entire 90 minutes, and the Argentine full-back had previously kept the Belgian in one of his large back pockets, but not on Monday evening. Everything the Chelsea winger did looked like it would extend the away side's lead still further.

When City floundered the most, though, was their usually reliable finishing. David Silva twice scuffed shots wide when he should have buried them with ease -- both at crucial times of the game: The first would have given the hosts a lead, while the second would have pulled them level with about ten minutes to play, when the Blues were on top of a side happily settling for their single goal lot.

Worse, Silva didn't offer any cover for his full-back behind him in Aleksandar Kolarov. The Serbian had a torrid time in dealing with Branislav Ivanovic -- who must have beaten the City left-back in the air all evening -- and the lack of help from Silva allowed the Chelsea man free reign of the flank.

Alvaro Negredo was reportedly struggling with his fitness before the game and that gives him some mitigating circumstances, but his contributions were altogether not up there with his best. Whatever he tried didn't work, but more often than not he found himself unable to get into the game. Meanwhile, his strike partner Edin Dzeko had his sights askew whenever he swung his boot for a shot.

When so many players have a bad day at the office, it's difficult to get anything from the game. With Chelsea remaining firmly in shape and pressurising the ball high up the pitch, City had a bigger problem -- they were unable to keep possession in dangerous areas and only able to make regular successful passes across the back-line. And even then, that usually ended with Joe Hart being forced to play it long where the ball would be lost.

The match also proved to show an alarming lack of strength in depth for the home side -- with Pellegrini choosing only to make one substitution, as he looked at his reserves to see few options to offer much to change the game. With Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, Javi Garcia and Fernandinho injured, City -- understandably -- lost a cutting edge, but in an era where title-winners must utilise the whole of their squad, the performance must worry the manager.

Chelsea may well be the only side that takes six points off the Blues this season, though despite that set-back City remain two points off the top of the league. The opportunity to make the three-horse race a virtual two-horse race and put the Stamford Bridge outfit six points behind the leaders went begging. It now means two points separate the top three -- and whoever is going to win the league will have to take their chance when it comes over the coming months.

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