For Chelsea, there was a wry sideline smile in defeat. For Manchester City there were sideline tears in victory.
After Chelsea lost 2-1 at Newcastle at lunchtime, City listlessly seized its chance with a dreary 1-0 home victory over Everton in Saturday’s evening game. Chelsea’s lead is now just three points. But as José Mourinho told BT Sports after his game ended: “We have to ask the other 19 teams in the Premier League if anyone wants to be in our position and I think they would all like to be. But leader there is only one and that is Chelsea.”
The tears at the Etihad came from Sergio Agüero as he limped off after four minutes. The Premier League’s top scorer hurt his leg stretching for the ball. The tears suggest the injury is serious.
Watch: Alejandro Bedoya's long-range golazo gives Nantes lead vs. PSG]Without Agüero, City managed 19 strikes at goal. Only three were on target. It could only score from the penalty spot. Yaya Touré slammed the ball home after Phil Jagielka had needlessly challenged James Milner who was heading toward the corner flag. The contact was innocuous. It was one of those penalties that punishes a major act of stupidity rather than a serious foul. On the other hand, City was fortunate that neither Eliaquim Mangala nor Fernandinho was punished for wild, high challenges.
“You don’t see Man City having any dodgy calls going against them,” Roberto Martínez, the Everton manager, complained to Sky TV.
City closed a gap, but lost the player who has almost single-handedly kept it in contention.
“We’ve played a lot better recently than we did today,” Milner told Sky Sports after the game.
At Newcastle, Mourinho smiled when Papiss Cissé put Newcastle two goals up with 12 minutes left.
Perhaps he smiled because Newcastle had just hit Chelsea with a classic sucker punch. Chelsea was pressing desperately. Seconds earlier, Cesc Fàbregas had hit the Newcastle post. The home team counter-attacked and scored.
Perhaps Mourinho smiled because of the accidental nature of Cissé’s goal. As Moussa Sissoko raced toward the Chelsea goal, he stumbled. Thibaut Courtois had rushed out to meet him. Three Chelsea defenders had surrounded him. As Sissoko fell he stuck out a boot and poked the ball across to Cissé, all alone. He pinged the ball into the unguarded goal.
Perhaps Mourinho smiled because Martin Atkinson had allowed Newcastle to play on despite a challenge by Fàbregas that earned the Spaniard a yellow card.
Chelsea did not give up. The home team lost Steven Taylor to a red card. From the free kick, Didier Drogba headed a goal. Chelsea, with Eden Hazard invisible and Fàbregas inaccurate, battered bluntly against the massed home defense. The home fans had to suffer through six added minutes. Newcastle held on to win, 2-1.
Perhaps Mourinho smiled because he knew that this would be the last day he would face tedious and distracting questions about going through the season unbeaten. That was not, as he has insisted, his primary objective.
“We have to accept the result,” Mourinho told BT Sport after the game.
Accepting the result did not mean that Mourinho did not have complaints. Alan Pardew complained that the six added minutes were “Mourinho time.” Mourinho moaned that his team had been robbed of time and momentum by systematic time wasting by Newcastle, the ball boys and the fans.
“The ball boys they run away,” he said. “The ball disappears. They keep the ball. They hide the ball. We want to play. No ball. When one ball comes appears the second ball appears again.”
At one point in added time, 40 seconds elapsed between Branko Ivanovic’s shot flying into the crowd and Jak Alnwick, the Newcastle keeper, taking the goal kick.
Mourinho said Chelsea had enough chances to win. Yet for much of the match the Blues looked leaden and uninspired.
Perhaps the season is already taking its toll. Mourinho has a squad that allows him to rotate, but he isn’t doing a lot of it. Six players have started every league game.
On the other hand, this was Chelsea’s longest away trip of the English season - even if 275 miles does not seem a huge distance to fans of North American sports. It came just a week after Chelsea’s second-longest trip, some 270 miles to Sunderland, where it gave another uninspired display and drew 0-0. In between, Chelsea crushed Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps the team is relapsing into the old Mourinho pattern: dominant at home, conserving energy away.
Under the gun -- Arsenal fought back bravely away to one of its bogey teams before losing just 3-2 with 10 men at Stoke. But the late reminder of the Gunners’ undoubted firepower could not disguise the total incompetence of their defense.
Calum Chambers and Héctor Bellerín both whiffed on chances to clear before Peter Crouch put Stoke ahead after 19 seconds. Per Mertesacker, one of the few Premier League defenders who can look Crouch in the eye without standing on a box, was not in position to challenge as Crouch won the headers that led to the first and third goals. Dámian Martínez looked hopelessly out of his depth all afternoon. He was fortunate after he misplayed Bojan’s shot that the goal, which would have put Stoke four up, was disallowed because Mame Biram Diouf was in an offside position. Chambers, who is proving to be a yellow card machine, ended an undistinguished afternoon by earning his second of the game for his first career red. Martínez and Bellerin are backups, but their display highlighted Arsenal’s lack of defensive depth. This was not a Premier League defense.
Lacking punch -- The problems for Liverpool at Anfield run deeper than whether Steven Gerrard is in the starting lineup. Liverpool couldn’t score against Sunderland when Gerrard was on the bench. It couldn’t score after Gerrard came on, either.
The 0-0 result might have something to do with Sunderland, which has drawn nine of its 15 league games this season.
Liverpool, once again, created very little, managing two shots on target all afternoon. It has scored just seven goals in eight home games this season. That’s a horrible stat. The departed Luis Suárez and injured Daniel Sturridge are missed, but the attacking players bought with the Suárez money – Mario Balotelli, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic – have scored just four goals between them. They aren’t winning the penalties and free kicks that would allow Gerrard to pick up some of the scoring slack.
"If you can't win it's important you don't lose,” Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, told the BBC. But at the moment, the glass is a lot less than half full.
Bad sign for Spurs -- Hugo Lloris provided another reminder that he is a world-class goalie on Saturday. The problem for Tottenham was that he needed to be. Spurs only managed a 0-0 draw at home against a Crystal Palace team floundering at the bottom of the table because Lloris pulled off a string of great saves. The goalie had to be good because no one else in his team was.