Another day, another stellar performance from Manchester City. This was, on paper, not an easy match-up for City. Playing the current Premier League Champions should always have challenges. But Manchester City won this game against Chelsea on reputation alone.
Many teams try to find develop own playing style, elements of which they will keep every game. Last season, Chelsea won the league with a deadly combination of efficient attacking moves and tightly structured defense.
But as Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
In this game, Manchester City faced a team who knew they were going to get punched in the face, and decided to completely throw out their normal plan. Chelsea set up to be completely passive out of possession. Content to let individual Manchester City players have the ball, they exclusively concerned themselves with taking up space on the pitch.
Even the Manchester City players can’t quite believe what their opponent is doing.
Chelsea strung a few counter-attacks together, but nothing to really trouble the Manchester City keeper, Ederson. Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s former Player of the Year, struggled in his role as the 1 in a 5-4-1 formation (that looked much more like a 9-1). He complained after the match that “we could’ve played for 3 more hours and I wouldn’t have touched the ball.”
Chelsea might have played pragmatically here, but it made for a poor showing. For sympathy though, we remember what happens to teams who attempt to pressure Manchester City when they have the ball — just talk to Arsenal, victims of back-to-back 3-0 whippings from the Etihad boys.
The title, by now, is out of their grasp. Manchester City is just too good. But there is still pride to play for. And this game showed that Manchester United’s players find pride to be an inconsistent motivator.
On the other hand, Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace side are finding that avoiding relegation from the Premier League is a wonderful motivator. They desperately need points, however they may come, to stay out of the table’s bottom three. And they showed their determination wonderfully throughout this game.
At the start, Crystal Palace were the more aggressive side. Their energy rewarded them with the first two goals of the game, both results of sluggish man-marking from United players. Paul Pogba looked especially poor in the first half, spraying many of his passes long and his crosses high. Alexis Sanchez, United’s newest signing and highest paid player, performed just as poorly as Pogba. Both of them seemed to have a desire to make every pass and touch fit for a highlight reel, instead of playing with their own teammates. In some games, they might be able to score on their own. But not against this very motivated Crystal Palace side.
The second half was a different story.
Manchester United came out much more energetically, if not cohesively. But as we’ve seen so often with the talented players on United’s team, energy is more than enough. By the 80th minute, it felt all but inevitable that United would take the lead. But the minutes passed. And passed. And the score was still tied at 2-2. Until the unlikeliest of players, the defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic, absolutely belted a shot past Julian Speroni, the Crystal Palace keeper.
As Jose Mourinho said in the post match interview, “Hodgson did everything right. It’s not often that its the losing manager who gets praise, but he did everything right this game.”
Except, of course, hold off United in the second half.
Liverpool had the honor of facing their old manager Rafa Benitez when they played Newcastle this weekend. As the last manager to lead Liverpool to a title worth holding (he won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005), he is fondly remembered by their fans. And also feared – because they know that any team he manages will play well-structured football, capable of pinpointing your weaknesses and attacking patiently yet forcefully.
Unfortunately for Benitez and Newcastle fans, the players in this team simply aren’t good enough to work with the manager’s vision.
On a day when Liverpool weren’t at their best, Newcastle were unable to capitalize.
Liverpool led the game with several good attempts on goal in the first half. But Newcastle was able to hold Liverpool off until the 40th minute, until who-else-but Mohamaed Salah placed a shot between Dubravka’s legs and into the net. The man (the myth, the MO!) is on fire. In his past nine starts, he’s scored 9 goals and helped out with 3 assists.
Liverpool’s new starting keeper, Loris Karius, made a great diving overhand save just before half time to deny Newcastle an equalizer. The momentum of the match would’ve been very different had it gone in. After a few years of shaky confidence and mediocre performance from Simon Mignolet in front of goal, Liverpool might be starting to feel secure that they’ve found a keeper for the future.
It’s worth remembering that Liverpool are without their former star, Philippe Coutinho. When he forced his transfer over the winter window to Barcelona, many fans worried that Liverpool would struggle to break down and work through defensive-minded teams like this Newcastle side. Jurgen Klopp and his style of “heavy metal football” are ensuring that this Liverpool team keep the energy to grind out wins, even when they’re not at their best.
This game is included only out of sympathy and/or pity. Arsenal have been depressing to watch for weeks. Rumors have been coming and coming that players are not only losing belief in their manager, Arsene Wenger, but that they are outright mutinous.
This game was a reflection of their disunity. Brighton are simply not a top side, and Arsenal of old would have been able to fluidly and languidly play their way to a win. But this week’s Arsenal left out the “fluid”, and stayed with “languid.”
Next week’s games
Manchester City play Stoke on Monday. Look for more of the same from them and their immaculately-dressed manager, Pep Guardiola.
Manchester United play Liverpool at home this Saturday. A massive game for both sides – if Liverpool win, they pass Manchester United in the table and move to 2nd. Look for United to set up defensively, ready to break on the counter and capitalize on any mistake that Liverpool make.