On a sunny afternoon in the northwest of England, two of the Premier League's giants met for an early season clash. The game soon proved to leave many questions unanswered for both sides about who is best poised to grasp the trophy at the end of the season.
Chelsea using their standard 4-2-3-1 lined up against an aggressive 4-4-2 from Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City, who started both Edin Dzeko & Sergio Agüero. The Chelsea midfield packed tight to take away the pace from the dynamic City midfield, which saw David Silva & Yaya Touré show little to no influence on the order of affairs.
The overall flow of the game provided little to no excitement, and an abundance of bookings prior to Pablo Zabaleta's sending off on 66'. Manchester City did enjoy a majority of possession and knotted fourteen corners, albeit not many of good use. The defensive tight play from Chelsea did allow James Milner & Pablo Zabaleta to overlap the midfield, and in the 2nd half Milner in particular looked better for pace down the wing.
What does it all mean however? Chelsea remain unbeaten in the league and enjoy a three point cushion over second place Southampton. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Chelsea's early fixtures included Burnley & Leicester City, two sides Chelsea relentlessly attacked at times, but against City last Sunday Jose Mourinho looked to exploit his usual defensive tactics. Much like the early Manchester United-Chelsea game on a rainy night in the fall last season (a drab match that ended 0-0), Mourinho's Chelsea looked to stifle the pace of the game. It is the cautious approach most Mourinho sides have begun to be profiled by, even going back to his time with Real Madrid.
Manchester City on the other hand, showed they need to find more lethal finishing when utilizing the cross. Dzeko gives them one option, but the lack of space through the midfield meant that Silva and Agüero failed to find any balls through to a running striker. The amount of crosses from Milner and, in the first half at least, Zabaleta factored in with the fourteen corners only proved that City lack a big forward who can get into the mixer and provide the difference needed. In the end it took only a somewhat fortunate lay to former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, now on loan to Manchester City from New York City FC, to provide the finishing for the hosts.
What we saw on Sunday was a defensive Chelsea that has become a familiar sight against high level opponents and a lack of attacking prowess from Manchester City. While City arguably looked the better side after the conclusion on the ninety minutes, Chelsea was still the side to come better putting five points between the two title favorites.
As the season continues it will be interesting to see how the two sides fair against other clubs competing for the top spots and City fans need not worry based off their team's play, particularly in a match spotted with fouls from both sides. For Chelsea, a return to the attacking side that saw Cesc Fabregas notch six assists in his opening four games, would be welcome sooner rather than later.
Match Highlights (US only) can be found here: