Bad goalkeeping makes for excellent entertainment
It will do little for the stress levels of their managers but any big game is improved by a couple of goalkeeping howlers, and so it proved at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester City’s difficulties in this department are well documented, with Pep Guardiola’s decision to jettison Joe Hart looking ever more questionable as his replacement’s replacement, Willy Caballero, failed woefully to stop Eden Hazard’s deflected effort. Thibaut Courtois has had a fine season but his miskick that led to City’s equaliser was symptomatic of a poor campaign in general for goalkeepers.
Before last night’s round of fixtures goalkeepers had saved just 67.7 per cent of shots faced this season - the lowest total recorded in the past 10 years. Expect standards to be higher next season.
City’s stand-ins show size of Guardiola’s task
Pep Guardiola sprung two surprises in his starting lineup as he gave Fabian Delph his first Premier League start of the season and Vincent Kompany his first since November.
Both improved after shaky starts but the fact Guardiola had to call on them shows the scale of the rebuilding job he has to do this summer.
A back five of Caballero, Jesus Navas, John Stones, Kompany - in his current, reduced state - and Gael Clichy is not good enough for any team hoping to win the title, and they rarely looked at ease as Hazard toyed with them and Guardiola went through agonies on the touchline.
It is almost nine years since City were bought by Sheikh Mansour but last night again proved they are still a work in progress.
Chelsea’s adaptability sets them apart
Going into this fixture Chelsea had won nine games by a solitary goal and it was not difficult to see why. This is a team that rolls with the punches, that knows where its’ own weaknesses are and can adapt to changing circumstances.
Kurt Zouma came in and then went off, with Cesar Azpilicueta switching seamlessly from wing-back to the three-man defence. Pedro adapted too, and it is this certainty in their own roles and what their manager demands of them that has seen them dominate the league this season.
It is clearly not done yet but Antonio Conte will be confident they can last the pace. They may not be swashbuckling but they are effective.
Man of the Match
David Silva was mesmeric at times but Hazard’s two goals meant there could be no other choice. He has turned into a genuine big-game player, scoring against Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Leicester this season.
Chelsea are confident the Belgian does not want to move to Real Madrid and on this form why should he? He is the main man at Chelsea and they rely on him completely. After a poor season last year he is turning into the leading contender to be player of the year, with N’Golo Kante surely his closest contender.
What next for Chelsea?
It seems that Tottenham will not wilt, so Chelsea have to maintain their own momentum. A trip to Bournemouth this weekend is the type of game that title contenders simply have to win, and Conte will know it.
What next for Manchester City?
Concentrate on securing a Champions League place that was the minimum requirement when Guardiola arrived last summer. Failure to do so would represent an enormous underachievement, and Saturday’s game against a resurgent Hull is no longer straightforward.