Five Things We Learned: Chelsea 2-1 Man City (Premier League)
In an eventful game at Stamford Bridge, Manchester City slipped to a narrow defeat against Frank Lampard's Chelsea despite a wondergoal from Kevin de Bruyne.
Here's what we learned from the match...
A Win That Never Was
Ah, City. Things could have been so different tonight. Just moments after Kevin De Bruyne's stunning free-kick (more on that later), Ederson began a counter that should have given Guardiola's side the win - but didn't. After some great work from De Bruyne again, Raheem Sterling arrived on the penalty spot to squeeze his shot past the onrushing 'keeper... and hit the post.
Just another example of how fine the margins in football can be. If that shot had gone the right side of the post, it seems likely that we'd have gone on to win the game. The worst part is that Sterling didn't see the free man who would've had an empty net to tap into. I can't criticise him for taking the shot on, but it's a real shame that he couldn't spot the pass that may have given us a crucial three points. Instead we headed for our eighth league defeat of the season - a really poor statistic that Manuel Pellegrini would have been murdered for by fans. The worst part is that every single defeat could have been avoided if our centre-back planning had been a bit less awful.
Alternative Attackers in Agüero Absence
After Sergio Agüero's unfortunate injury against Burnley saw him ruled out for several weeks, most fans expected Gabriel Jesus to take his place for this match. But Pep sprung a similar surprise to the one he's pulled on several occasions before - Bernardo Silva started the game in a False 9 role in place of a central striker. While this trick has been fairly hit-and-miss for the Cityzens in the past, today he was supplemented by an incredibly fluid supporting cast.
Over the course of the game, almost everyone had a go in the position usually occupied by Jesus or Agüero. From Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling to Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan, there was no way for Chelsea to predict who they'd have to defend against from one minute to the next. Tonight this approach almost worked; there was visible confusion in the Chelsea defence at times as players popped up all over the pitch, keeping Lampard's players occupied.
The problem was that we didn't have a focal point for the attack. Bernardo, Mahrez, De Bruyne and Sterling are all great players, but none of them are strikers. It's just that simple. Without someone to centre our attacks around, we didn't look as assured on the ball, didn't create enough and lacked the deadly touches. It's really interesting to me that Pep only ever uses this system in the big games - if you're going to play someone out of position, surely you want to try it against a weak team first.
Kevin De Bruyne - A League of his Own
I don't care who wins the award, because there's nobody in this league as good as Kevin de Bruyne. The sheer number of big games in which he scores or assists (or both) is just ridiculous. This game was going pretty terribly for City before it erupted into life with KDB's sensational free kick in the second half. It was an absolute beauty - easily the best dead ball he's ever scored for us.
There's not much else to say about this man that hasn't been said plenty of times before, so I'll just say that I've gone from thinking De Bruyne is one of those who might deserve the award to believing that he's the only man who should win it. He's been sensational this season and even then I'm not completely sure it's been his best campaign for our club. That's how good the Belgian is.
Mendy Mistake Deserves Perspective
I'm a notorious defender of City's more unpopular players - I'm pretty sure some of the other CityXtra writers think my love of Nicolás Otamendi is a joke, but I still believe we must stay calm when assessing Benjamin Mendy's performance today. Yes, it was dreadful defending from him that was culpable for Pulisic's opener. However, mistakes are an inevitable part of life for any defender. There were a few moments today when Fernandinho, Rodri and even Laporte screwed up at the back. True, they weren't as bad and the consequences were much less serious, but my point is more about how we respond to these errors.
When Mendy first arrived at City, he was an extremely talented attacking full-back. The Frenchman had the energy to get forward at every opportunity, put in a plethora of perfect crosses and provided plenty of precious assists for his trouble. After his first major injury, he returned as a totally different player - far more timid, extremely error-prone and unsure of himself on the ball. The Mendy we've been watching recently has been a blend of both the previous Benjamin's. He gets forward, but less than in 2017. He makes mistakes, but fewer than in 2018.
And up until tonight, I'd seen a great deal of praise for the left-back on social media, both before and after the lockdown. I'd even joined in myself, complimenting him in last week's player ratings and calling him 'quietly excellent' for several months now. So I can't get behind the vicious takedowns of the left-back I've seen on the internet after his error tonight. Costly mistakes are always frustrating - but you can't go from loving a City player to hating them after a bad game. It just feels a little bit too easy for me.
I've just become the first City writer to use that expression without referring to David or Bernardo Silva. Instead, I'm talking about my second-favourite moment of the match, after De Bruyne's goal. As much as it was ultimately pointless, Kyle Walker's goal-line clearance was a thing of beauty. Absolutely everyone had resigned themselves to Pulisic making it 2-1 to Chelsea - everyone except Kyle.
The right-back slid in to make what had seemed like an impossible block, and for a few crazy seconds City fans everywhere waited for the inevitable whistle blow indicating that the goal had been given. But the whistle never came, and instead I was left in awe, wondering how on earth he had prevented the ball crossing the line. This feels like a great opportunity to draw attention to how good Walker has been this season, making barely any mistakes compared to the previous campaign as well as being one of our most active defenders. It's crazy to think that tonight was only his second-best goal-line clearance of the season. On what was overall a pretty miserable night, this unlikely source provided a moment that made me grin ear-to-ear. Thanks, Kyle.
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