Friday 24 November 2017

Fantastic Tevez ends Blues' run

Man City 1 Chelsea 0

Simon Stone

Roberto Mancini's belief that Carlos Tevez can be his Diego Maradona looks a little less fanciful after the Manchester City captain's goal destroyed Chelsea's hitherto perfect start to the Premier League season.

Tevez's impressively opportunistic second-half strike secured a victory of the chillingly efficient rather than thrill-a-minute variety. If it still might not be quite sufficient to convince neutrals of City's ability to challenge for top spot, those who suspected Carlo Ancelotti's title defence could turn into a procession may want to revise such opinions.

Afterwards Mancini was still tipping Chelsea to finish ahead of everyone else but could not disguise his delight at closing the gap on a compatriot.

Ancelotti regarded his players' collective stumble as a bad afternoon at the office. "We didn't play well and suffered in midfield, we were not able to play our football," he said. "I'm disappointed. We were not at our best, it wasn't good. But you can't judge our team on one defeat."

With Chelsea's midfield creativity foundering on the rocks of a home engine room comprising three holding players, attacking service was sporadic and an uninterested-looking Didier Drogba disappointed hugely.

Even so Ancelotti's decision to withdraw Drogba in the second half against opponents who beat Chelsea twice last season proved controversial.

"This is not a very good place for us and I wanted more speed up front," he shrugged. "But Manchester City are very good, there's a possibility they can run us close in the title race."

If so, hopefully in slightly more dashing fashion than this reminder that, while wealth can guarantee many things, excitement is not always among them. Pushed nose-to-nose, two of the world's richest, most expensively stocked sides produced a thoroughly anticlimactic first half.

Admirers of the defensive arts may have relished John Terry's tremendous block on Tevez when City's Argentina international slid in to connect with James Milner's low left-wing cross and Dedryck Boyata's brilliant tackle to deny Nicolas Anelka as the Chelsea striker shaped to shoot, but the goalkeepers were woefully underworked.

The nearest thing to an early goal arrived when Mancini's rearguard lost concentration at a corner. It led to City's Pablo Zabaleta, filling in at left-back, appearing mightily relieved to see his attempted headed clearance rebound off a post and fall kindly for Joe Hart.

Although Anelka gave Kolo Toure a reasonable workout, attacking improvisation remained elusive. While Chelsea badly missed the injured Frank Lampard's late dashes into the box, Mancini's deployment of three orthodox holding midfielders did not exactly promote dynamism.

Mark Hughes' willingness to embrace attacking risk may have contributed to his Eastlands downfall but, behind the optimism generated by yesterday's win, there is a real fear that his successor's innate, Italianate, conservatism could eventually take City backwards.

Yesterday Mancini's safety-first, counter-attacking tactics proved fruitful but the real test will come against less illustrious opponents when attacking gambles will be required to dismantle packed defences.

In mitigation, a lengthy injury list combined with the need for new faces to bed in must be factored into the equation but playing on the counterattack at home with a formation that seems more 4-5-1 than 4-3-3 can be a bit of a thrill killer.

Adam Johnson's penchant for what Mancini perceives as cheap thrills -- the England winger raised managerial eyebrows when he paid several thousand pounds for a charity auction date with Katie Price -- was perhaps one reason why he began on the bench, having been replaced by David Silva.

The Spaniard started by once again suggesting that his transition to English football will be of the slow-burn variety but, after spending the best part of an hour being unceremoniously bundled off the ball Silva finally exacted revenge.

It came in the form of a highly intelligent decoy run which confounded Ancelotti's defence while permitting Tevez, who took possession in the centre circle, to accelerate towards goal. Finally, Tevez pulled right before unleashing a shot which flew through Ashley Cole's legs and reached the bottom corner via the inside of a post.

If that was an example of shocking defending it also proved a case of dead-eyed finishing from Tevez. He now has 25 goals in his last 29 league appearances. Small wonder Mancini trusts his captain can emulate Maradona's feats in the 1980s at Napoli where the Argentinian inspired unprecedented glory.

"Carlos is a fantastic player not just because he scored the goal but because he fights for the ball every time," said City's manager. "Even against bigger players."

Put Tevez in Drogba's body and you might just have the world's most formidable striker.


Sunday Independent

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