Chelsea: City Game Proved Only Liverpool's Suarez Is Better Than Hazard
Chelsea came out all guns blazing against a Manchester City side lacking in dynamism on a big night at the Etihad, this is where the game was won and lost
Jose Mourinho welcomed in the Year of the Horse on Monday night with his own unique anecdote. "The title race is between two horses and a little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump," he said, "maybe next season we can race." This is Mourinho at his most maddeningly self-effacing. Everyone knows that Mourinho believes he can win the title, even if he isn't confident that he has the best team. Yet all these sorts of comments do is ramp up the pressure on his rivals. Oh and beating them away from home, that helps too.
Manchester City’s few deficiencies were on full show on Monday night. The defending was appalling at times, allowing Chelsea in behind time and time again. The Chelsea attacking quartet had the beating of pretty much every member of that defensive unit in one-on-one situations which made the counter attacks all the more threatening. If Vincent Kompany wasn't playing this could easily have been a rout.
This of course dredges up the niggling question of why Chelsea couldn't force their dominance onto the score line, as City have been doing recently. Unfortunately the answer is twofold, simple and pointless because everyone knows: a) they need a world class striker and b) they won anyway.
In his excellent piece for Grantland.com, Mike Goodman points towards Fernandinho as the key missing factor for Manchester City in this game. I feel that in a vacuum Sergio Aguero would have had more of a direct effect on this game, but Fernandinho is certainly a vital factor in transitioning from defense into attack and covering space in the middle of the pitch.
Chelsea's two ball winners won the battle on Monday night and this comes down purely to dynamism. City are extremely adept at controlling the midfield in games, even with only two players in an area increasingly flooded by opposing managers. This is because the two midfield players are excellent athletes, with both the leggy Yaya Toure and the dynamic Fernandinho capable of covering lots of ground. Fernandinho's stats back this up as he leads the team in interceptions on a per game basis and is second in tackles. Replacing the ball winner Fernandinho with the bag-of-sand resembling Martin Demichelis created huge holes for Chelsea's pacey front players to dart in to.
David Luiz and Nemanja Matic proved an effective wall in front of the back four, not allowing Toure between the lines, where he can be such a threat. Without Aguero dropping deep City were forced to attack down the flanks. City use their full backs better than anyone in the league, and by creating lots of overlaps they would have expected to be able to service their two beasts up front, Dzeko and Negredo. Unfortunately for them Chelsea are excellent at defending crosses, and thanks to a collectively brilliant display from the back four City couldn't threaten from these areas, with not one of their 39 crosses creating a goal scoring opportunity.
Silva, unsurprisingly, was the biggest threat between the lines as he was allowed to come in off his flank and drift all over the pitch. Chelsea did their best to track him though, and with Demichelis providing absolutely nothing in the opposing midfield Matic and Luiz were able to take one of Silva/Toure each, freeing Ramires to get forward.
Simply put Mourinho got one over his old rival Manuel Pellegrini once again. It is harsh on The Engineer as key injuries to the dynamic duo of Fernandinho and Aguero proved decisive. What this showed more than anything though was that Chelsea will continue to stack up against the big boys, now they just need to work out a way to unlock the sturdier ones.
Making the (inevitably derided) case for Eden Hazard
At what stage can I start discussing the possibility of Eden Hazard being the best player in the league without inviting ridicule and comment section vitriol? I would say he is currently the second best player in the league, but the gap between himself and Luis Suarez is closing, and the chasing pack is nowhere to be seen.
City simply couldn’t put up with Hazard and his blistering change of pace on Monday night. Martin Demichelis will be having nightmares about the Belgian for a few nights yet (that's if two ton football playing cyborgs do dream at all?). By the most scientific of methodology, fantasy league points, Hazard only finds himself behind Luis Suarez and Yaya Toure. Toure is the only midfielder (12) with more goals than Hazard's nine. He also has five assists (the more arbitrary stat of the two) which is one more than Yaya but admittedly not as many as quite a few good midfield players in the league.
Naturally, Mourinho agrees. However this is a man often cautious in pumping up his best players in public. His track record with managing Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo and now Hazard speaks for itself and it's comments like this that show how highly he truly thinks of the Belgian: "I keep saying Hazard has to keep improving and his feet on the ground but he's probably the best young player in the world." The key word there is young. Hazard may not be in the lofty world class bracket reserved for the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and then Suarez, Zlatan, Ribery et al but he is far younger than all of these players.
The sky really is the limit.