As City entered the second game of the critical Christmas period, they found themselves up against a resurgent Chelsea determined to prove they could keep up with this season`s pace setters. Stamford Bridge had not been a happy hunting ground for City during the Premier League era as out of twenty eight games played, Chelsea have won nineteen and City only five. However, if there is one thing we had learnt this season, was that City had torn up the record books up to now. Make no mistake, this was a game City needed to win to make their mark and go thirteen points clear of Chelsea, but Chelsea were fired up.
Mancini made three changes, one enforced, as the resplendent and amazing Micah Richards failed to recover from injury. The other players to come in were Milner and Balotelli. The team sheet read as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure, Barry, Milner, Silva, Balotelli and Aguero. On the bench were: Pantillimon, Kolo Toure, Savic, De Jong, Johnson, Nasri and Dzeko (all of whom would walk into ANY Premier League side) .
The atmosphere was tense as Terry fired up his team-mates and it looked like we were in for a tasty night. City kicked off in the pouring rain, playing left to right and looked to settle early on the ball playing in neatly around Stamford Bridge.
Within ninety seconds, after a Chelsea free kick, City broke after a neat pass by Zabaleta to Aguero. The Argentinian pivoted, took a couple of steps put a through ball between the two centre halves for Balotelli to run onto. City`s talismanic striker was forced wide by Chech but cut the ball back from an acute angle to score City`s first goal with his first shot. One nil.
What was noticeable from early on was Chelsea playing a high line and leaving a lot of room for the City front three. With City`s pressing style the London back four needed to be on top of their game.
There followed as could be expected a period of Chelsea pressure as the sought to fight back from their early set-back. City were however giving Chelsea no room to dwell on the ball, chasing and harrying, pressing high up the field and forcing Chelsea into errors. This was Barcelona-esque football.
Chelsea`s first shot came in the tenth minute and the earnt a corner after the shot was deflected. Right from the set play, Balotelli played a looping through ball over the Chelsea defence. Aguero used his strength and balance to get past the two centre halves and got off a great shot which went just wide of the post. A good chance gone begging.
In the thirteenth minute City played a wonderful passing move of thirty odd passes which found Silva on the edge of the Chelsea box. He jinked left then right and cut into the box, only to be clearly brought down by Boswinga. The ref clearly not wanting to do City any favours, waived play on in a clear demonstration of poor decision making.
In the following few minutes Chelsea managed a couple of crosses into City`s box, but each time, one or other of Kompany or Lescott were on hand to repel the ball and each time Chelsea looked to threaten, City stood firm and were soon on the attack again.
Chelsea earnt a corner in the twenty fourth minute after Hart saved their second goal attempt, a shot by Drogba delivered after a run at Zabaleta. The defence dealt well with the set piece and had soon forced Chelsea back to their centre halves.
As the half hour approached, City`s ball retention had been outstanding as they elegantly stroked the ball around the pitch looking for an opening. When they did lose possession, they hunted in packs with two or three players instantly harrying the Chelsea player on the ball.
Twenty nine minutes in and the awful ref once again made a poor and inexplicable decision as Meireles went in ‘red card` high on Silva, flooring the little Spaniard. Clattenberg almost gave nothing but after a few seconds of thinking gave the free kick, but didn`t deem it necessary to even verbally reprimand the Chelsea player for his on pitch thuggery.
Disaster struck for City on thirty three minutes. After a long, hopeful crossfield ball, Terry found Sturridge, who took on Clichy and beat him hands down. His cross into the box found Meireles who had made an intelligent run and the Chelsea midfielder put the ball past Joe Hart and into the City net, against the run of play it has to be said.
Thirty seconds later and more thuggery by Chelsea as their goal scorer and midfield enforcer Meireles this time attempted to break Zabaleta`s leg. A yellow card was this time forthcoming, but had the ref made the right decision first time, Chelsea would be down to ten men.
With seven minutes of the half left, City picked the ball up on the edge of their box and played a wonderful flowing, passing move up pitch with Silva, Balotelli, Toure and Aguero all invlolved. Whilst the move was ended by Aguero straying into an offside position, it was a wonderful thing to behold.
First yellow card of the game for City came on the stroke of fourty minutes after Terry dispossessed Balotelli and played Drogba in for a run on goal. Kompany felled the Chelsea striker and Clattenberg was very quick in pulling his card from his pocket and brandishing it with seeming relish.
As the half drew to a close, the scoreline belied the actual play which City had dominated and other than a piece of brilliance by Sturridge, the Manchester team would and should have been going in one nil up. Oh and Chelsea should almost certainly be down to ten men as the free fouling ex-Liverpool thug Meireles put himself about and City should have had a penalty after a foul on Silva in the box
Chelsea kicked of the second half as the London rain bucketed down on Stamford Bridge. Neither managers had made any changes so the starting eleven for each side faced off.
Within a minute, Clichy had been given a yellow card as Sturridge showed another piece of brilliance turning City`s left back and leaving him for dead. Clichy`s only option was to clip the disappearing heels of the Chelsea winger. The resultant free kick nearly paid off for Chelsea as the whole City defence seemed to be drawn to Terry near the penalty spot. The ball flew over all of them and found a Chelsea player coming in from behind them. Whilst the shot was blasted over the bar, it was a warning for City.
Chelsea were playing a deeper line now and City were struggling to break through. The London Blues on the other hand were having a good deal of success with Sturridge and looked to play the ball to him at the earliest opportunity.
On the stroke of fifty minutes, Clichy played a long ball up to Balotelli who looked to have Ivanovic beaten before he was felled by an outstretched elbow. Clattenberg was once again unimpressed and waved play on. It wouldn`t be long before we were into double figures for bad decisions by this ref who was having a terrible, terrible game.
Two minutes later and Mata went on a run from the left of Chelsea`s midfield. He beat Toure, then nutmegged Kompany before being brought down by City`s Captain. A wonderful piece of play by Chelsea.
Ramires was left prone on fifty four minutes after an accidental collision with Toure. City were in a good attacking position, but Milner, ever the good sportsman played the ball out so that Ramires could receive treatment.
The game was much more even in the second half and Chelsea were giving City more trouble with their attacking play and their deeper line was frustrating the narrow City attack. A change needed to be made to give City more width.
On fifty seven minutes Clichy received a second yellow card tackling Ramires with the wrong foot. The Brazilian tumbled to the floor and Clattenberg was certain and quick in his decision to send off the City man. Alarmingly this behaviour was showing the ref for what he was, ignoring blatant red card offences and clear cut penalty decisions for City and jumping on every opportunity to dish out punishment to Mancini`s men. It would be interesting to have a statistical analysis of Clattenberg`s decision making during this match.
City were now on the back foot as Chelsea had the hackles up. Clattenberg awarded another free kick this time against Aguero when replays showed clearly that the Chelsea man tripped himself up. The Stamford Bridge crowd were roaring now as the smelt blood.
Sixty two minutes in and Clattenberg once again ignored a City free kick when Balotelli was rugby tackled to the ground, only to award a free kick seconds later for a foul that really wasn`t.
Mancini took this opportunity to change things. Aguero was sacrificed for Toure who settled in at right back with Zabaleta moving over to the left.
Clattenberg awarded another unusual free kick to Chelsea on sixty five minutes after Mata ran into the back of David Silva. The Chelsea player dropped to the floor and almost instinctively, the ref blew up for a foul against City.
A minute later and Bosingwa beat Zabaleta to the ball and played a wonderful cross into the City box. With Drogba bearing down on the ball, Kompany somehow managed to arrive first and cleared with his head. An excellent save.
On the stroke of seventy minutes after a passing move of thirty or more passes, Zabalata found himself free on the edge of Chelsea`s box. Two Chelsea players went for the ball, both missed it and one caught Zabaleta clean on the shin`s. A clear foul you would think. A free kick in a great area right on the edge of the penalty box. Not in Mr Clattenberg`s world. No. Play on to Chelsea.
There followed a series of fouls on Balotelli. Three in the space of two minutes. The final one by Ramires was so blatant that even this ref was forced to dish out some form of punishment. Ramires was given a yellow.
At this point in the game Mancini made his second substitution and it wasn`t a popular one as Silva was withdrawn and replaced with Nigel De Jong. It was clear City were on the back foot, but looking for the draw was a dangerous game and without the Magician on the pitch, who was going to unlock the bus parked across Chelsea`s penalty box.
City were dropping deeper and deeper as only Balotelli remained up-field. This type of tactic was inviting Chelsea on to them.
Another red card offence by a Chelsea player was missed by Clattenberg on seventy seven minutes as Drogba ignored Zabaleta completely when making a two footed sliding challenge from behind. The ref did award a free kick and a yellow card, but the rule of law in football is that a challenge off the floor and from behind is a red card offence.
Perhaps the tactic by Mancini was beginning to work. Chelsea were becoming increasingly frustrated as despite the possession they were enjoying, they had only forced Hart into one save. This frustration was borne out in a successive series of fouls each time the lost possession.
With nine minutes to go Sturridge beat Zabaleta and cut inside to unleash a wicked shot. Lescott turned his back and threw himself in front of the goal bound ball. Back turned and eyes shut, the ball hit Lescott`s hand. As if scripted, the ref acted without hesitation pointing to the spot. Ball to hand, not deliberate hand ball. Denied a genuine stonewall penalty in the first half and facing one in the second half for accidental hand ball.
Lampard duly despatched the penalty and Chelsea were undeservedly in the lead. The Chelsea coach made a change before play restarted taking off Mata and replacing him with Malouda.
This was quickly followed by a City substitution as Mancini refused to concede defeat to the ref and replaced the unfortunate Lescott with Dzeko.
With five minutes left, Balotelli was once again fouled in the City left wing position. Milner stepped up to take the free kick and blasted it high and wide of the Chelsea bar. As the ball flew over, Terry clearly put his hand into Balotelli`s face, making sure of contact after having a quick look where his opponent was.
Chelsea then replaced their man of the match, Sturridge with John Obi Mikel. City had it all to do with the clock ticking towards eighty eight minutes.
With a minute to go, City looked to have won the ball off Drogba after the Chelsea player got caught in possession playing for time. The linesman waved for a City goal kick, but to make sure his fellow team mates kept possession for the remaining seconds, Clattenberg over-ruled his colleague and gave Chelsea a corner.
There were four minutes of injury time to be played and City were chasing every ball and every lost cause, but it wasn`t enough. Reduced to ten men and playing against a thoroughly physical Chelsea side helped out enormously by some inexplicable refereeing decisions, this was never going to be City`s night.
In summation, Chelsea were in no way better than City although The Blues didn`t have their best game, but one man made a difference for Chelsea tonight. One man stood out as defining this game. Take a bow son, Mr Clattenberg that was the worst refereeing display I have ever seen.
Joe Hart – 7
Not at fault for any of the goals.
Pablo Zabaleta – 7
Didn’t put a foot wrong at right or left back but lacks pace.
Vincent Kompany – 6
Had a poor game and got caught out far too many times both on the ground and in the air.
Joleon Lescott – 6
Not at fault for the pen as his back was turned. Struggled to cope with Drogba.
Gael Clichy – 5
His worst performance in a City shirt. Made to look a poor player by Sturridge.
Yaya Toure – 4
His worst performance in a City shirt. Looked slow and lumbering. Couldn’t tackle, couldn’t pass and lacked any positive contribution today.
Gareth Barry – 6
If he had pace he would be one of the best in the world, but this game was lost in midfield and with Toure seemingly uninterested in breaking a sweat he needed more.
James Milner – 7
Always reliable and puts in 100%. Unfortunately, can’t be relied upon to win every game.
David Silva – 7
Kicked to pieces and struggled to unlock the eight men Chelsea kept behind the ball.
Mario Balotelli – 7
Fouls against went into double figures as Chelsea looked to get Balotelli sent for retaliation after dishing out kick after kick on poor Mario. He played a good game, but City’s lack of width reduced the service to him.
Sergio Aguero – 7
Had a good first half but struggled to make an impact after half time.
Kolo Toure – 6.5
Actually didn’t do too bad at right back.
Nigel De Jong – 6
Didn’t have much of an impact.
Too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 6
Couldn’t do much against the referee and post match was certain that the turning point was the clear penalty and possible red card ignored by the ref.
The Twelfth Man
Without doubt one man did make a difference today. The referee seemed determined to be centre of attention today and played a blinding impression of Homer Simpson. Ignoring persistent fouling on Balotelli and Silva. Ignoring a blatant penalty. Giving a dodgy penalty. Sending off one player but ignoring at least two sending off offences for Chelsea. I for one would like each decision analysed by a panel of experts and a panel of fans.