Chelsea v Manchester City was a heavyweight title fight refereed by a pompous pygmy but ultimately it was the most stylish bruiser of them all who won out.
Having been fortunate enough to comment on the bulk of Manchester City’s season so far – the best start to any Premier League since it began in 1993 – a small sadistic part of me was looking forward to finally covering a defeat.
It would offer me the opportunity to show the comment-box haters that I was capable of magnanimity and that most of the supposed blue-blinkered bias was actually just due praise dished out to a team who have been routinely outstanding this term.
It would also allow me to give my thesaurus a break: the page containing ‘sensational’ alone is so well-thumbed it’s barely legible.
So there is a great deal of frustration in being deprived of lavishing Chelsea in deserved complimentary prose for a victory largely achieved through a rediscovered spirit and graft and instead focus my initial attentions on a referee who isn’t fit to officiate a morning stool movement. Mark Clattenburg is so infamously incompetent he is widely feared by supporters of all allegiance. His name in the match programme brings a collective groan as those present brace themselves for the circus to come. They pay good money to witness a much-anticipated clash between two expensively-assembled outfits chock-full of enterprise and breath-taking talent only to have the party gate-crashed by a thoroughly unwelcome attention-starved buffoon: Team Clattenburg, with all the madness and bizarre decisions that come with it. At Stamford Bridge he had an absolute shocker, which for the clown from County Durham is akin to saying Fred West’s last killing was a bad murder.
With City a goal to the good from a first minute strike by Balotelli – so much for Chelsea abandoning their high back-line – David Silva was tripped in the box. I’ve described it as prosaically as it occurred. It was a penalty for which the term ‘stonewall’ was invented and when Gary Neville – hardly a friend of the blue half of Manchester – later emitted genuine surprise that it wasn’t given you know you’re really onto something. For Clattenburg however – a man who once sent a business rival an e-mail that concluded with the line ‘Taking me to court might cause your family some pain’ – such an incident is manna from heaven. With all eyes upon him it allows him to exorcise some childhood demons – ‘Why do they hate me daddy?’ ‘Because you’re a c*** son. Now get back in that shed’ – and take centre stage.
Quite frankly he is a disgrace to the game.
Manchester City’s Merlin has been gifting chances on a plate since August but the Silva service was in short supply here.
After waving away the spot-kick that would probably have given Manchester City a two goal lead and a golden chance to extend their half-hour dominance into three crucial points Clattenburg then proceeded to even up his incessant blundering. Yaya Toure openly slapped Mata, Meireles committed three acts of outright thuggery that amounted to a single yellow, while Kompany somehow avoided a dismissal for a second cynical block.
In between these key gaffes were a multitude of wrong decisions some of which bordered on the farcical. Dives were rewarded for both sides. Shoulder-barges punished. Correct calls by the assistants were over-turned.
Following Chris Foy’s ‘mare at Stoke at the weekend the reputation of Premier League officiating has never been lower.
Mata v Silva
This was supposed to be the show-down of the schemers. Valencia alumni David Silva and Juan Mata have both been a treat for the eyes this season and top the assists chart with countless flicks and needle-splitting passes. Disappointingly however both struggled in vain through the awful conditions that best suited industry over artistry with neither magician able to provide any meaningful contribution. Manchester City’s Merlin has been gifting chances on a plate since August but the Silva service was in short supply here while Mata, well…didn’t.
All credit to the latter though who scurried and harried throughout and made himself a general nuisance – if there is no cut and thrust at least be a thorn in a side. Silva meanwhile was a shadow of his usual self and uncharacteristically ineffective. The slick surface negated his slick movement.
Didier the beast
While all the talk in the press is of the supposed resurrection of the media darling Lampard due to one low drive from the spot (if you want to see crawling servility to an Englishman check out Henry Winter’s opening paragraph in today’s Telegraph – embarrassing) just how good is Didier Drogba right now? The Ivorian is back to his bullying, spectacular prime and if Chelsea are to haul themselves back into title contention it will chiefly be down to their powerful talisman with his rediscovered zest for drama. He embodies the spirit of Stamford Bridge. He encapsulates the awoken belief that is patently surging through the corridors and reinvigorating a club that was close to damn near sulking. He is a one-man siege mentality.
Drogba, at his best, is a formidable beast of a player who almost single-handedly retained possession for the final five minutes last night, depriving City of even a sniff of hope for a late leveller.
When AVB most needed fortitude, grit and genius he released his Drogs of war and though I may have hurled invective at the screen in battle in hindsight there is nothing but immense respect for a quite astonishing player.
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