All the cameras were on Frank Lampard after he shinned the ball between John Terry’s legs and into the corner of the Chelsea net with four minutes left. The former Chelsea player had just earned 10-man Manchester City a 1-1 draw. What was Lampard thinking as he stood, seemingly in shock, stone-faced in his new sky-blue kit?
Was he suppressing a smile? Or a tear? Or a gesture at JoséMourinho by the Chelsea bench? Lampard really looked like a man who did not know whether to laugh, cry or flip the bird.
“I’d be unprofessional if I didn’t come on and do my job,” a bashful Lampard told Sky TV after the game. “It’s a tough one for me.”
Mourinho insisted that he was not greatly interested in the fact that the player he had released had come back to haunt Chelsea.
“He’s a Manchester City player,” the Chelsea manager told Sky. “I don’t believe in these histories of passion and heart. Maybe I’m too pragmatic.”
“When he decided to come to Man City, a direct competitor of Chelsea, the love stories are clearly over.”
Mourinho took the chance to butter up the Chelsea fans who had serenaded Lampard when the midfielder came on and at the end and to remind them who they should truly love.
“This is England and this is Chelsea. Chelsea people they never forget,” he said. “Happened with me when I beat Chelsea with Inter and the reception was fantastic.”
The draw leaves City in sixth, still five points behind Chelsea. In that sense, it was a better result for Chelsea, the away team.
Yet, last season, City lost twice to Chelsea. That must have needled a champion’s pride. So must the rampant form Chelsea had shown this season. City had also evidently been watching the videos of Diego Costa.
Manuel Pellegrini opted for a muscular line-up. On the flank, Aleksandar Kolarov kept thumping his Serbia teammate Branislav Ivanovic. City’s defenders queued up to whack Costa.
City’s aggression put it in control for the first 20 minutes. Yet even though Chelsea has been attacking more this season, it still knows how to defend. City could not create clear-cut chances, although Costa was lucky not to concede a penalty. Meanwhile, City's aggression meant four of its players received yellow cards in the first half.
City paid the price. In the 66th minute, Pablo Zabaleta twice smashed into Costa from behind. For a moment it looked as if the tactic might pay off. Costa appeared primed to lash out. He didn’t. Zabaleta received a second yellow card. City was down to 10 men.
“Immediately we stepped up 20 meters and started to create,” Mourinho said.
Five minutes later, Chelsea made City pay. Eden Hazard crossed from the right. Andre Schürrle, coming in from Zabaleta’s flank, scored at the far post.
It looked as if Chelsea would pull off another one-goal victory over City. But with 12 minutes left, Lampard came on. The final act of the melodrama followed the script. Indeed, Lampard came close to scoring a second.
Lampard is on loan from New York City FC the MLS expansion franchise owned by Manchester City. The 2015 MLS season does not begin until March. The return match between Chelsea and City is scheduled for Stamford Bridge on the weekend of January 31. This love story may still have another twist, with the Premier League title at stake.
Assume City, despite its genetic propensity to follow triumph with disaster, and Arsenal finish immediately behind Chelsea. Who will join them in the top four? Clumsy Everton, and Tim Howard, which handed Crystal Palace the points at Goodison on Sunday? Fragile Manchester United which threw away a two-goal lead at Leicester? Sterile Tottenham, outplayed by last-placed West Brom at home on Sunday? Docile Liverpool, outworked at West Ham on Saturday? Southampton is second but was distinctly lucky to beat 10-man Swansea. At least it won.
Soccer fans, whatever team they support, should make a note of the dates when Manchester United is playing. United’s 5-3 loss at Leicester on Sunday, offered wild entertainment. Angel di María struck a breathtaking goal. Ander Herrera scored a cute one. Falcao looked like a shark swimming with sardines: powerful, graceful, menacing and hungry. He was unlucky to hit the bar with a sudden half volley. Yet United remains soft in midfield and limp in defense. Yes, Mark Clattenburg was wrong to throw Leicester a lifeline at 3-1 down and award a penalty after Rafael, who had himself just been fouled, made light contact with James Vardy. But the defending on the three goals that completed the Leicester comeback was horrible. There were eight goals. There could have been a lot more. Highlight United’s games on your calendar.
It makes sense that Barcelona and Arsenal buy from each other. They have similar philosophies. Cesc Fàbregas, stolen from the Barça youth system, was one of Arsène Wenger's great signings. But Barcelona received only mixed returns for their investment in Thierry Henry, Alex Song, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Alexander Hleb and Fàbregas. This summer Thomas Vermaelen and Alexis Sánchez switched between the clubs. Sánchez scored three goals as Arsenal lumbered through its first eight games. Yet its World Cup winner, Mesut Özil, was anonymous. On Saturday, with Sánchez on the bench, Arsenal was Arsenal again. Özil dazzled as he masterminded the four-minute annihilation of Aston Villa’s unbeaten start to the season. In the long term, Sánchez and his new teammates should (probably) adjust. In the short term, Wenger faces a conundrum.
How many games would Newcastle fans be prepared to lose to get rid of manager Alan Pardew? Before the home game against Hull on Saturday the Sackpardew.com web site printed 30,000 signs. Many inside St James’ Park waved the signs enthusiastically. When Hull went two goals up, the mounting fury of the fans perhaps contained an element of masochistic satisfaction. Then Pardew brought on slumping Papiss Cissé for the last 20 minutes. Cissé scored twice. That’s management. Sackpardew.com should plan on running off another 30,000 signs for the next home game, on October 18. This feud could get expensive.