Published on February 26th, 2013 | by Nathan Evans0
Punditry Corner – Benitez’s Chelsea outfought by City
Super Sunday turned out to be a day that Rafael Benitez will want to forget after being defeated by second-place rivals Manchester City.
And the Spaniard’s miserable weekend was capped off when Tottenham came back late on in their Monday night clash against West Ham, leap-frogging Chelsea into third place.
Before the match had even kicked off on Sunday, Benitez was under scrutiny for his decision to leave out captain John Terry. This didn’t let up either as Chelsea began the game in sluggish and lacklustre mood in every department on the pitch.
City on the other hand started with the intensity that they have lacked for large parts of the season, perhaps as a result of manager Roberto Mancini this week claiming that a number of his first team players would be facing the axe if they didn’t up their game.
One of those players was goalkeeper Joe Hart and he was again at fault when he clumsily brought down Demba Ba in the penalty area, no doubt readying himself for more of Mancini’s ire if Frank Lampard could put the spot-kick away.
However, Hart then showed the fight and spirit that Mancini has been looking for when he saved Lampard’s penalty, and in doing so stopping the midfielder from reaching his 200th career goal for Chelsea.
City’s hard work and quicker tempo then paid off ten minutes later when Yaya Toure curled a shot into the bottom corner of the net and Chelsea’s misery was complete when substitute Carlos Tevez scored from 25 yards with five minutes remaining.
The game was never under Chelsea’s control, with the most worrying sign the fact the players who the team have been relying on for the majority of this season just weren’t firing on all cylinders in a game where they really needed to be.
Juan Mata looked out of sorts, which will frustrate many Chelsea fans, as he has been in scintillating form for so much of the campaign, adding to the on-going illusion that he fails to show his best in the big games.
The Spaniard failed to repay his manager’s faith after being employed in a free-role behind the striker, resulting in Ramires being forced wide right, which in turn saw Chelsea lose much of their dynamism and energy in the central areas of midfield.
The power of Yaya Toure in midfield proved too much for Chelsea’s midfield pair of Lampard and John Obi Mikel, as the surprisingly effective Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia gained control of the midfield battle and freed Toure into dangerous forward areas.
City simply won the midfield battle due to outnumbering their opponents and being hungrier in the tackle. Captain Pablo Zabaleta challenged Ashley Cole and Eden Hazard with some real vigour early on, signalling the kind of desire Mancini recently claimed was lacking.
Key to any match are the substitutes and Benitez came under-fire for his, when, needing a goal, he removed Lampard, and a potential game changer in Eden Hazard, for Oscar and Victor Moses respectively.
These were straight swaps rather than attacking moves, and simply saw Oscar pushed out wide to little effect.
Benitez has been very reluctant to change formation, and only changed it in this game with nine minutes remaining when he brought on Fernando Torres for Mikel, although this largely just restricted the attacking midfielders who struggled to get the ball in order to feed the forwards.
From a City point of view, many fans will wonder where this kind of performance has been all season.
Mancini has sulked his way through much of the campaign but it appears his harsh words may well have done the trick, as his side’s win over Chelsea was built on the kind of desire, hunger and midfield dominance of their successful title-winning season of last year.