Monday 18 November 2019

Manchester City back with a bang and a wallop

Chelsea 2
Manchester City 3

Henry Winter at Villa Park

As England raised a pint of London Pride to the Olympics, football returned with a bang, toasting itself with Molotov cocktails in a frenzied Community Shield encounter containing five goals, eight cautions, one red card and an ominous warning from Manchester City to their rivals.

Barring the huge hunger for victory, little of the Olympic spirit suffused this traditional season-opener. As one curtain fell on a sporting spectacle, another curtain was ripped from its hooks. This was fast and furious fare, briefly scarred by Branislav Ivanovic's challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

The next 50-50 in Serbian training could be lively.

Ivanovic should have been followed by others. If Frank Lampard had clattered James Milner one more time he would have got to keep him.

Stefan Savic was taken off before he got sent off. Ramires was booked for fouling Samir Nasri and then somehow escaped a second yellow for a blatant body-check on David Silva. In the stands, there was jeering, gesticulating and even the surreal sight of a fan dressed as Zippy from Rainbow being bundled out by stewards. Throughout, the noise gave this game a spiky, noisy backdrop.

This was football in the raw, occasionally ugly, but thrilling and everyone present revelled in its return. The tempo was quick. The commitment was endless. Skill was on show as well as the dark arts.

Mike Summerbee and Chopper Harris made fitting guests of honour.

When the trails of cordite cleared on an entertaining game, the long-term view was of a blue moon continuing to rise over the English landscape.

Drawing conclusions from this fixture has always been a haphazard pastime, particularly with players to return or sign, but this was a reminder from City of how strong they are in mind, body and resources.

Their fans kept singing "Stand up for the champions", many of them wearing replica shirts proclaiming "Champions 12". The message on one fan's back read: "Premier League dreams can come true in blue''. Others waved a flag declaring: "93:20 May 13, 2012".

The moment when Sergio Aguero won City the title.

This game produced many questions, even for the winners. City need Joe Hart, absent with a back problem here, to stay fit as Costel Pantilimon was caught out for Chelsea's second.

Roberto Mancini again persisted with his pre-season formation of three at the back, a system that can be exposed by flying wingers.

For all Jack Rodwell's smooth running and obvious technique, it will be interesting to see where the £15m arrival from Everton fits into Mancini's midfield. Yaya Toure was again immense in the centre.

Rodwell is not a ball-winner in the manner of Nigel de Jong or the more stylish mould of Javi Martinez and Daniele De Rossi, both Mancini targets.

The way Mancini spoke about Rodwell as "one for the future" indicates that he must hit the ground running in training, let alone games, if he is to impress his new manager.

Carlos Tevez looks like a new signing, all slimmed down and fired up.

He was exceptional here, a firefly with an eye for goal, and departed to a standing ovation. James Milner also shone with his energetic contribution down the right.

Slimmed

Chelsea have far more work to do. Far more. At times, David Luiz resembled a generous bouncer, lifting the rope to allow too many people through. John Terry also looked uncertain, perhaps distracted by Luiz's errors.

The restoration of Gary Cahill alongside Terry should steady the defence, although Ivanovic is now absent for three games.

In front of the back-four, Chelsea need a more reliable shield than John Obi Mikel and a ball-winner should really be high on Roberto di Matteo's shopping-list. Chelsea have recruited some stylish players: Eden Hazard gave glimpses of his promise although the Belgian seemed slightly shocked by the pace of the game. The obvious positive was the performance from Fernando Torres at the tip of Chelsea's 4-2-3-1 formation.

The Spaniard scored the only goal of the first half, slightly against the run of play. City had started as if they had never been away.

Tevez and Aguero darted through the middle. Milner troubled Ashley Cole.

Nasri forced a save from Petr Cech. Aguero headed wide.

City were sharp, fluid, threatening.

Chelsea sought to turn this tide. Hazard, working the left, attempted a flamboyant back-heel and slipped over, causing much merriment amongst the City faithful. Then Ivanovic and Juan Mata combined, Ramires crossed but Lampard's shot was easily saved by Pantilimon.

Five minutes from the break, Chelsea seized a surprise lead. Ramires eluded Pablo Zabaleta, placing the ball towards to Torres, who scored with an unerring flicked finish past Pantilimon.

Those who felt Torres had left his predatory days behind at Liverpool found their argument corroded here. He then made another break, cynically stopped by Savic's elbow. Torres laughed in disbelief when Kevin Friend ignored the offence.

The referee took far more assertive action when Ivanovic flew into a tackle on Kolarov, his left boot catching his compatriot on the shin. Chelsea complained but this was a clear example of excessive force. Kolarov was fortunate his foot was not planted in the ground.

Commotion

Inelegant deeds continued in the second half. Kompany became almost a linebacker in blocking Torres. The attention was briefly taken away from the game by a commotion by the tunnel as that lippy Zippy was marched away.

Only in football.

Chelsea's defence was soon unfastened, City striking three times in 13 minutes. For the first, Toure surged from midfield like a destroyer heading into open water. Milner soon took up the running, putting in a low cross that Terry intercepted but cleared poorly. Toure, lurking on the edge of the area, stroked the ball low and hard past Cech.

Then Tevez showed his menace, escaping far too easily from Luiz, running along the 18-yard line and placing a powerful shot past Cech. He lifted his shirt to reveal a T-shirt paying homage to his roots in the 'Fuerte Apache' quarter of Buenos Aires.

City kept the pressure on. With Ramires struggling as an emergency right-back, Kolarov whipped in a cross that Nasri met first-time, giving Cech no chance. There was still time for Chelsea to cause City a few palpitations. Pantilimon spilled Sturridge's shot, allowing Ryan Bertrand to score.

Keen to get on with the game, Bertrand eventually dragged the ball away from Pantilimon's clutches. Wrestling the Premier League trophy off City will be far harder. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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