Thursday 14 December 2017

Fear of failure breeds bore draw between league's top two

Dion Fanning endured a contest that didn't end a minute too soon

Loic Remy gave a glimpse of his qualities which haven't been seen too often. He began the move that ended with him tapping in Eden Hazard's first-time cross
Loic Remy gave a glimpse of his qualities which haven't been seen too often. He began the move that ended with him tapping in Eden Hazard's first-time cross

Dion Fanning

This was a game crying out for a conspiracy theory. In fact at the end of 90 minutes of poor football, it was tempting to think that off-the-ball stamps and general nastiness aren't as bad as we've been led to believe.

At least they pass the time which passed slowly without them at Stamford Bridge last night. Chelsea and Manchester City deliberately, and with as little excitement as they could provide, took 90 minutes to make it clear that neither side wanted to lose. Both sides clearly see merit in the five-point gap although Chelsea clearly have the advantage.

Diego Costa was missed. On Tuesday night against Liverpool, he was seen as the embodiment of Mourinho's values. Without him, Chelsea were striving to be something but they could never achieve it.

The match ended with Manchester City on the attack as if they had suddenly realised that a victory was possible against this Chelsea side.

Chelsea's final shot of the game was Loic Remy's goal in the 40th minute. As well as withdrawing from media duties, Mourinho had removed his side's ambition.

Last week, we were asked to once again believe in the outlaw Jose Mourinho, even if Chelsea's manager sometimes seem like an outlaw whose lawlessness extends no further than jaywalking.

Mourinho launched a counter-offensive after the victory against Liverpool last week; his press conferences were cancelled and he refused to speak to Sky before or after this game, presumably holding them responsible for Costa's stamp on Emre Can which resulted in a three-match suspension. When the teams walked out yesterday evening, Mourinho was already on the bench, alone and misunderstood. As another fugitive in show business sang, "Don't you think this outlaw bit's done got out of hand?'

If this was a familiar strategy from the Mourinho playbook, it was matched by another one on the field. If there was anger at the treatment of Costa at Chelsea then it didn't affect their approach last night which was to take all passion from the game.

They had played for two hours on Tuesday night which might have been an explanation for some of the sloppier moments in the first half, particularly the sight of Branislav Ivanovic losing the ball easily on a number of occasions.

Whatever diversions Mourinho embarks on, he never lets his side lose sight of their objective and they had decided this was a game they didn't want to lose.

Unfortunately Manchester City had the same idea which was a little more puzzling, especially after some early evidence that Chelsea were not merely being unadventurous, they had vulnerabilities as well.

In the stands, the Chelsea fans chanted about Jamie Redknapp but it was a sign of their boredom, not their paranoia.

City were marginally the better side but they were more curious as well. Obviously a defeat was out of the question for Manuel Pellegrini's side but City played with that strange disjointedness which is an odd characteristic from a side that has few limitations when the club turns to teambuilding.

Too often something seems to be missing from Manchester City and even as they created half chances and found space down the right in the first half, they never seemed convinced. In the second, they were more purposeful than Chelsea but that would be like being more purposeful than an apathetic heiress.

Pellegrini insisted afterwards that his side had played to win and that might be more concerning than if they'd played for a point.

He pointed out that his side had the best chances which was true and in the first half they should have taken the lead when Sergio Aguero shot wide after a rare mistake by John Terry.

With Costa, who was sitting beside the injured Cesc Fabregas in the stand, suspended, Mourinho selected Loic Remy and he spent the early period of the game encouraging him to hunt down the City defence.

Mourinho would have longed for Costa to implement a plan like this but Remy gave a glimpse of his qualities which haven't been seen too often since he arrived at the club.

He began the move that ended with him tapping in Eden Hazard's first time cross into the Manchester City net. Before he did, there had been a series of swift passes which culminated in Ivanovic's sweeping ball to Hazard. He knocked it first-time into the box and it could have been cut out by Vincent Kompany before Remy put it in.

Chelsea had done little and this was their best moment but this is not a classic Mourinho side as it always remains capable of conceding goals too easily. Four minutes later City had an equaliser which was a collective failure with some individual errors thrown in.

Jesus Navas exploited a looseness on the Chelsea left as he got free and put in a cross. Courtois came for it but made a rare and critical error and the ball reached Aguero. He drove low from just inside the box but the ball was going wide until David Silva arrived and poked it in.

City began the second half encouraged by their goal but they never lost the run of themselves. Fernandinho drew a save from Courtois when he headed a Navas cross into the ground but it arched over the goalkeeper.

Mourinho spent most of the second half engaged in debate with the fourth official again which may be a sign that he felt he could leave nothing to chance as his side conceded ground.

On the field, Chelsea were contributing fully to the game's mediocrity. When Frank Lampard came on, the Chelsea supporters moved on from abusing his cousin to bickering among themselves about how he should be greeted.

It was farcical but still more entertaining than the game where, after some good moments, Navas was reverting to type and setting the standard for what remained of the game.

Both managers wanted it to end and in a strange way they had given a demonstration of their power because, after 90 minutes, most other people did too.

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