RICH PICKINGS FOR CHELSEA (SUNDAY TIMES UK)
September 14, 2008
... Seven minutes in, Robinho galloped wide to take a corner and every City fan stood and applauded. Excessive perhaps but five minutes later, they had good reason to express their gratitude. Jo and Carvalho went for a ball on the edge of the penalty area, the defender seemed to get the ball before Jo fell over but Mark Halsey saw it differently.
Robinho spent ages lining up the free, Chelsea spent longer lining up the wall, the crowd had time to consider every penny of that £32.4m and, then in a flash, everything was reduced to chance. Wall member John Mikel Obi got his head to Robinho’s free kick, deflecting it wickedly past his goalkeeper, Petr Cech.
But that deflection was a detail easily ignored by an entranced crowd. In those minutes, the hype was justified, the transfer fee an irrelevance and City were on their way. Except that Chelsea hadn’t come from London like Chelsea teams of bygone days. Even in the moment of that goal, there wasn’t a hint of doubt, nor a trace of panic in their reaction.
And in a game which ebbed and flowed with excellent football, their passing was crisper and more penetrative. Robinho may become a very fine Premier League player in time but he wasn’t that yesterday. He gave the ball away too often and we are talking about straightforward passes missing the target.
He wasn’t a patch on Frank Lampard, who was the game's best player and by quite some distance. To every good Chelsea move, he was central: the choice of his pass, the timing, the accuracy, the weight, he had it all and it was a joy to watch. What the other Chelsea players love about Lampard is that he never takes a fraction more time to make the (sic) than is necessary.
It is clear too that Lampard likes playing with Deco, they weave patterns that look simple but because it all done quickly, it creates space and there were times yesterday when Chelsea looked a very slick side. Their equaliser came just four minutes after City’s goal, and even if that was timely for them, it wasn't that surprising.
For they picked up the pace after conceding and when Shaun Wright-Phillips conceded a corner against his former club, Lampard's delivery picked out Terry, whose header ricocheted off Joe Cole backwards into Carvalho's path and the centre-back slammed his right-foot volley high into the roof of the net. Poor City goalkeeper Joe Hart was lucky that he wasn’t in the way. Perhaps the Gods were making up to Carvalho after that free kick award.
The game continued to hum along; City were good but Chelsea were better. Florent Malouda got his head to a Joe Cole cross but the ball crashed against the bar and when Jo and later Stephen Ireland had good shooting chances, Carvalvo got back to make brilliant blocks. Ia there a central defender anywhere who makes those tackles better than the Portuguese?
By the time Ireland’s effort was blocked, Chelsea were already in front, thanks to another demonstration of Lampard’s class. He surged through from midfield, exchanged passes with Ashley Cole and, forced on to his left foot, he rifled his shot into the far corner. Brilliant. Though City kept playing and the fun continued, Chelsea were always superior.
Anelka got their third goal, after good work by Malouda and a clever final pass from Joe Cole. Fifteen the end, John Terry got a straight red card – the first of his career – when Mark Halsey deemed him the last defender when he fouled Jo. It was a slightly harsh decision as other defenders scampered back and were not far away when the Brazilian fell.
City kept trying but even with Jo, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta all showing they can become big players for the club, there was a challenge to the nouveau riche in the performance of the team with Roman's old money and it was this: can City absorb all their new wealth and find the team spirit that make Chelsea so formidable?