Evening all. By 10 'o'clock this evening, Manchester City could lead Chelsea by 13 points in the Premier League. It's worth dwelling on that – 13 points. On 12 December last season, the then Premier League leaders Manchester United had put 13 points between themselves and Birmingham, who were 16th. It's bigger than the gap between 8th-placed Stoke and rock-bottom Bolton, as big as the gap between Chelsea and West Brom. "It would be difficult for us from 13 points behind but not impossible," said Andre-Villas Boas over the weekend. I have to disagree. Can anyone see Chelsea overturning a 13-point gap?
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Chelsea may have lost to Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool (the latter two coming at the Bridge) already this season, but they remain a dangerous animal. Villas-Boas has been like a cornered cat in the past week or so, fighting back on behalf of his side. Tonight his team have the chance to repay the favour.
Meanwhile City, European frustration aside, move serenely on. Yes Mario Balotelli refuses to keep his head down, yes the Tevez thing is still ongoing, yes they're in the Europa League post-turkey-and-all-the-trimmings, but they feel like minor sideshows, twirling colourful umbrellas on a monumental silver steamroller. Will Chelsea get squashed this evening?
Juan Mata says Chelsea will approach tonight's game with "respect but no fear". That must be nice. I tend to approach modern life with a great deal of fear. Respect, truth be told, doesn't really come into it on either side. This exchange from lunchtime today offers an insight as to why:
I walk into the new burrito shop in search of lunch for myself and a colleague. I have never been in here before. A lady and a man are behind the counter. I look at the menu board. I fancy a chicken burrito. My occasional-vegetarian colleague (long story, don't ask) would, I decide, like the vegetarian option.
Me: One chicken burrito and one avocado burrito please
Me: One chicken burrito and one avocado burrito
Lady: looks uncertain
Me: So … two (holding up two fingers)
Lady puts a tortilla on the griddle
Lady: Tomato or coriander rice?
Lady: Tomato or coriander rice?
Me: Tomato, please
Lady looks uncertain
Lady: That wasn't an option. It's chilli (she is scooping the tomato rice into the tortilla as she says this. And it looks like bloody tomato rice to me.)
Lady: Black beans or refried beans
Me: Black beans please
Lady puts black beans into tortilla. I realise I meant refried beans
Lady: Chicken or steak.
Lady (points at what looks like chicken): Steak?
Lady (points at what looks like steak): Or chicken?
I look uncertain. Or at least, more so.
Me: The second one please
Lady looks uncertain. Lady scoops in chicken. And gratefully hands over to man.
Man: Mild, medium or hot salsa?
Man: Mild, medium or hot salsa?
Me: Mild, please
Man (clearly wanting rid of this moron): Anything else?
Me (pointing at guacamole): Could I have some avocado?
Me (still pointing at guacamole): Avocado?
Man: It's 70p extra.
Me: OK, fine. (I'm not sure if it's fine. I'm not sure of anything anymore. And I've just realised that, for some inexplicable reason, I've been calling it avocado rather than guacamole)
Man: Right that's [a sum of money that I don't catch]
Thinking that attempting to get another burritto might drive all three of us over the edge, I hand over £20 note. Collect change. Deliver chicken burrito with lashings of guacamole to colleague. Go to canteen and get jacket potato and beans for self.
All of which should provide a nice counter-point riff to tonight's proceedings. While these two giants of the modern game strut their stuff at the Bridge, let's also have a celebration of ineptness and incompetence. Your own, preferably - self-deprecation is so much more appealing than meanness.
The teams are already in:
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Romeu, Meireles, Sturridge, Drogba, Mata. Subs: Turnbull, Lampard, Torres, Mikel, Malouda, Ferreira, Kalou.
Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Clichy, Milner, Toure Yaya, Barry, Silva, Aguero, Balotelli. Subs: Pantilimon, Dzeko, Johnson, Savic, Nasri, Toure, De Jong.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)
So Lampard, Torres, Mikel, Dzeko and Nasri all sit on the sidelines. Nothing too unexpected there. Balotelli, despite his late-night dinner, starts. Zabaleta is fit, as is Boswinga, so no full-back rejigging required.
Pre-match emails dept.
"'m at Southwark Playhouse which has been turned into a tavern for a performance of The Canterbury Tales," writes ye olde Garye Naylore. "There's a bar serving beers to the audience, but nobody is fooled. If it were a real tavern, it would have the football on."
"You want tales of ineptness from MBM readers?" writes Ian Copestake. "This sounds like a surefire way of winning a bet for the greatest number if emails received in 90 mins."
"You're a sports reporter, man," chides Shane O'Leary. "Pull yourself together and get two pies." I've had my troubles with pies in the past. Fish pies to be precise.
Click-clack, click-clack … Out come the teams into a frosty west London night. Here the first in tonight's occasion series Tales Of Ineptitude: " I recently waited vapidly for my pizza in the local Italian," begins Neil Goodwin. "I took it on the bus in its box, which I had stuffed down my sweater for warmth, the gorgonzola and oil saturated the front of my trousers, through the box, sparking complaints from some women opposite. I then burned my hand on the oven in an attempt to reheat it, then glumly proceeded to eat the mess complete with layer of cardboard stuck to its underneath. I groaned myself to sleep that night and vowed to get back on top, but life again got in the way the very next morning. I am a cheerful person, mind, the mysterious spirits of hope carry me onward."
ADVERTS, ADVERTS, ADVERTS!!! Gamble, play computer games, play more computer games, take photos of Robbie Williams, drink hideous blue guff in the pub and tell your loved one you're at work …
Peep! It is widdling it down at Stamford Bridge as City get things underway.
1 min: "I asked this of a girl I dated once and she mentioned that one day she had some time to kill in a US airport so she went into a GAP store to do some browsing," begins Thomas Nolan. "She told me that she liked Gap clothes but was always frustrated that they never seemed to fit her - anyway this day she walked into the store and picked up some stuff that looked nice and went to try it on - again it was the same story - it was just too small. As she was walking out a store assistant asked if she had found anything she liked. She mentioned that while she liked the clothes they were just too small. Almost in slow motion the assistant said to her: 'You know there is a GAP for adults just around the corner.' You have to love someone for telling you a story like that on a first date - Granted my own embarrassing story was even more mortifying…" Don't leave us hanging, Thomas.
GOAL!!!! Chelsea 0-1 Manchester City (Balotelli 1min 38sec) Chelsea pulled apart inside the first two minutes. Aguero superbly spins away from Terry on halfway and send forward a sumptuous clipped through-ball for Balotelli. Ivanovic scrambles to get back, but the Italian holds him off, dances around Cech and taps home. What a start!
3 min: Meireles steps forward and lashes a shot wide. This has been an electric first few minutes. Looking back at the goal, you could ask questions of both Chelsea centre-halves but really you just have to admire the incision from Aguero and Balotelli's touch, strenght and poise.
5 min: Balotelli almost repays the favour to Aguero, a lovely ball just snaffled out by the Terry and Ivanovic.
6 min: Romeu dradfully concedes possession deep in his own half, Barry zips the ball into Aguero on the edge of the box, but he is crowded out. Meanwhile, Tales Of Ineptitude, part III, this one from Neil Hart:
"I walk into the newsagents to pay my bill for having the Observer delivered:
Me: Hi, I gather I owe you some money? I need to pay you for my paper delivery
Man behind counter: Ah, are you Ross?
Me: Yes (My name is Neil)
Man behind counter: That'll be twenty pounds please.
Me: Sorry, my name is Neil
Man behind counter: …"
9 min: Mata's cross can only find the bonce of Lescott.
10 min: Boswingwa skips forward – both Chelsea's full-backs have their minds set on attack so far – and the ball eventually drops out to Meireles, whose shot is deflected over.
11 min: It shoudl be two! Cole gives away the ball, Aguero wriggles a yard of space inside the box, muscles Bosingwa away from the ball, but then drags his shot wide. A cooler head and that would've been 2-0.
12 min: City feel like a coiled cobra tonight, ready to rear up and deliver the bite at any moment.
13 min: Another slicing, dicing move from City carves Chelsea open once more. Silva ends up with the ball on the edge of the box. He might shoot but instead chooses to jink round Bosingwa. Bosingwa dangles a leg, Silva hits the deck, referee Clattenburg says … no. Looked like a pen to me.
15 min: Balotelli opts to shoot from a free-kick 45 yards from goal. It lands somewhere near Hammersmith tube station.
16 min: Stamford Bridge takes a collective breath, but this game is still being played at a spanking pace. Tales Of Ineptitude, part IV: "I bought a new phone cover at Cath Kidston recently;," begins Niall Harden. "The nice lady asked if I would like it gift wrapped. I sheepishly admitted that it was for me. Outside the shop, I opened it up and was saddened to find it was too small for my phone. Back in I went, and reluctantly asked for a refund. The kind lady looked at me sympathetically and turned it upside down. Out fell two big packets of silica gel. 'Try it again now,' she suggested with a smile."
18 min: City pass, pass, pass on the edge of the Chelsea box, but a Blue foot soon gets in to break up play.
19 min: Toure gives Mata a poke with his toe while the Spaniard is on the turf. It was the sort of nudge you'd give a sleeping partner if you wanted them to wake up – not particularly aggressive, but not particularly smart either.
20 min: "I am a very modern man and can do my own washing and everything," writes Simon Cousins. "However for years I'd wondered why my machine only had settings for whites and reds - what if I wanted to wash something blue? My girlfriend at the time (unsurprisingly she moved on) looked confused when I asked her about it. I showed her the settings: white, coloureds and then realised where I'd gone wrong."
23 min: Milner gets in behind the Chelsea back four, but his cross is too deep for Aguero.
24 min: Mata gets a glimmer of space 30 yards from goal, but City double up to snuff out the danger. Drogba's won a corner though after Hart turns away his shot …
25 min: … cleared away. "There are so many Tales of Ineptitude, I don't know where to start," writes Mac Millings. "Recently at work, I spent the day wondering where the overpowering smell of cat urine was coming from. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed the large, yellow cat pee stain on the front of my shirt."
26 min: Sturridge can't quite get hold of the ball inside the area, but Chelsea have certainly eased their way into it in the last 10 minutes. The cobra is still poised but Chelsea have found their long cooking tongs and over gloves.
27 min: Drogba smites a shot wide and he's skewed it so much he's hurt his standing leg in doing so. The magic sponge seems to have done the job, though.
29 min: Stamford Bridge roars it's disaproval as Meireles catches Silva and concedes a free-kick. Clattenburg was the target, I should point out, not the Portuguese.
30 min: Kompany thwacks a long-ball aimlessly through to Cech. Tales of Ineptitude, part VIII, from Ben Ellis:
"My own horrorshow of ineptitude came at a music festival in Leicester. Seeing Stephen Merchant buying drinks at the bar (difficult to miss him really) and sufficiently sozzled to believe that I should attempt to engage him in some witty repartee I managed to construct the following conversation, to my eternal shame:
Me: *Tapping him on the shoulder* You're Steven Merchant, may I stand here and stare at you?
Stephen Merchant: Hm?
Me: And maybe poke you occasionally?
Stephen Merchant: Yeah, because I love to be treated like an animal in a zoo.
Me: It's not as if I'm expecting you to masturbate in front of me like a chimpanzee …
Stephen Merchant: *Exits bar left*"
GOAL!!! Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City (Meireles 33) Another super little goal. Sturridge does Clichy down the right, clips the ball in for the onrushing Meireles to volley home.
34 min: That was quite brilliant by Daniel Sturridge. A shimmie, a surge and a pinpoint cross. Chelsea have probably deserved it – they've been the better side for the past 10 minutes or so.
35 min: Meireles quite rightly goes into the referee's Little Book of Very Naughty Boys for a studs-up tackle on Zabaleta.
36 min: City push Chelsea back for the first time in a while and win a corner …
37 min: … Chelsea clear with little fuss.
38 min: Silva looks to thread the ball through for Aguero, but the Argentinian has strayed a tiny tad offside. Since the goal it's been all City.
39 min: Terry robs Balotelli, Kompany clobbers Drogba to earn a booking. Free-kick, 40 yards from goal …
41 min: … clipped sweetly by Mata, but drifting just over Ivanovic's noggin.
42 min: "Some 12 years ago, a couple of uni colleagues and I thought we'd found our way to make money out of this 'internet' phenomenon," begins John Dalby. "Noting that the hot new girl playing Flick Scully on Neighbours didn't appear to have a website, we spent a whole morning and £15 a head registering and setting up the websites www.hollyvance.com and www.hollyvance.co.uk. It was only once we followed a link on the Brooke Satchwell website that we found out we'd been given duff information and spelled her name incorrectly." A bit of a lull here as both sides start to think about the half-time oranges.
44 min: A City centre-half, it might have been Kompany again, lumps the ball aimlessly out of play. They've been uncharacteristically imprecise at times tonight.
45 min: Two minutes of injury-time to play. Aguero pokes Balotelli's cross in the direction of goal, but Cech is quickly down to save.
45+2 min: Ashley Cole's turn to overhit a ball forward.
Peep! Peep! And that's it for the opening half. It has been absorbing stuff.
Half-time Tales of Ineptitude dept.
Simon Marcroft: "One night I went to pick up some things I'd left at the dry cleaners for longer than usual - like two weeks - because I'd been busy at work. When I got home I noticed an extra pair of black dress pants that didn't look familiar. So I ran back to the cleaners. The owner was a Korean man who spoke broken English:
"Oh, sorry mate I think these are someone else's."
"No. They are yours."
"I don't think so. I don't recognize them."
"Yes. they are yours."
"No. You take them."
"No. You take them."
"Look I don't want the money back, I just want to hand the pants back coz they're not mine, these have a faint checked pattern - I don't have a pair like that"
Etc etc until he finally gave up and took them, rather bemused.
Two weeks later getting dressed for a night out with my wife - she asks: "Where's your good pants, the black ones with the faint checked pattern?"
Mike Hatcher: "Two years ago, in an attempt to recreate my favourite pizza (fiorentina, with an egg) from my favourite pizza establishment (Renato's, Bristol), I took a piping-hot, nearly-done one out of my oven, ready to crack a fresh egg over. My oven door opens downwards, so with the door fully open, I put the pizza - still on its oven rack - flat on the opened door, and cracked the egg over it.
Did I say flat? It was *this* close to flat. The egg landed, paused for a millisecond or two (this is where the slow-mo kicked in) and started to slide, perfectly frictionless, away from me, accelerating all the way to the oven door's hinge and then along it.
Once it hit the hot hinge, the egg started to cook, then stick, and rapidly burn. Save for the bits that didn't, which slid down below the door, seeping first over and then into the drawers below, filling them with half-cooked albumen. By now the burning had triggered the smoke alarm, attracting my other half into the kitchen in time to hear a barrage of egg-directed foul and abusive language. Afterwards, not a trace of that egg could be found on the pizza. But I still find the odd bit on the hinge and in those drawers."
Tom Mason: "I took some mis-delivered post to the house a few doors down. Me: "Daft buggers put my post code on it mate". Him "what?". Yeah, til about six months or so ago I thought every house in the UK had its own postcode. Like number plates. I am 30 years old."
Josh Oldham: "At Subway, I'd successfully asked for my Italian BMT to be toasted. It was then retrieved from the oven, and:
Man: Would you like any salad with that?
Me: Yes please, just a bit of salad.
Man: What salad would you like?
Me: Just some salad - oh and some onions please.
Man: All of the salad?
Me: ... No... just the salad and the onions.
Lettuce. I meant lettuce."
So as it stands … would either side be too disappointed with this result? Probably not, I'd venture. Chelsea succeed where all but two others have failed and take points off Manchester City, City stay undefeated, stretch their lead at the top and tick another Big Club™ off their list of teams to play. Let's hope the two teams don't see it that way, though. Goals, goals, goals … that's what we want.
Peep! Off we go again. "Making my return commute from London back to Earley (which is a six minute train ride from Reading railway station) late one evening a few years ago, I forgot that the trains that were used after a certain hour were too long for the Earley platform," writes Steven Hughes. "To get off at Earley, one had to travel in the first few carriages. On this first effort, I didn't realise that we'd stopped at Earley because all I could see outside was dark. It took me five, FIVE, efforts, going back and forth on other trains, and I still got it wrong. On the fifth 'pass' I opened the door and saw no option but to jump onto the gravel, to try to break out of this Kafkaesque shambles. I landed 10 yards from the platform but was near enough for a few onlookers to ponder my sanity."
46 min: Clichy hauls down Sturridge and joins Kompany and Meireles in Clattenburg's book.
47 min: Mata strokes it in, Toure (I think) jumps underneath it. Sturridge chests down and zips an angle drive just over the bar.
48 min: Chelsea are sitting deep when City have the ball and it is working a treat. Mancini's side look better when they're all mad-eyes-bare-chested-and-screaming into attack. They're having to take a more considered approach now, and it's nothing like as effective or dangerous.
49 min: "At Christmas, when I was about eight (I think), I decided I would catch my parents in the act of delivering presents to the foot of my bed and prove it wasn't Santa after all," writes John Walker. "I tied one end of a piece of string to my toe, and the other to my door handle. I went to sleep and woke up in the morning to find that magically the presents were there and I had been undisturbed. It was then that I realised my door opened inwards."
51 min: City break forward with a bit of pace for a change, but Chelsea snuff out the threat.
52 min: Wonderful stuff from Mata, nutmeggin Kompany then streaking away only to be pulled down by the Belgian. Dangerous free-kick … nodded clear.
54 min: Mata shimmies and shakes in midfield, but can't quite slither through. Ramires then hits the deck after running full bore into Milner.
55 min: Silva runs into a blue wall. City are really struggling to break Chelsea down now.
RED CARD!!! Clichy sent off! And he's got nothing to complain about really. Ramires gets to the ball just ahead of the left-back, who polaxes the Brazilian. A second yellow, so off he goes.
58 min: Now then. City's unbeaten record in serious danger. Here's John Dalby: "Heading north on a Northern Line tube bound for High Barnet, I fell asleep at Angel and awoke, more than a little disoriented, in time for the train to pull in to Borough, a spectacular 22 stops after my intended destination." That's even more inept than you think.
60 min: Lescott has, for now, drifted over to left-back. Milner has tucked in on the right, but City are reeling at the moment. Romeu falls over to win another dangerous free-kick …
61 min: … headed away. Neither side has particularly impressed from set pieces this evening.
62 min: Mancini needs to sort this out sharpish. This makeshift back four look about as comfortable as a duck on fire.
63 min: Romeu goes into the book for a fairly innocuous challenge on Balotelli. And Mancini has indeed made that change – Kolo Touré replaces Aguero. He goes to right-back. Zabaleta heads to left-back.
64 min: Here's David Hannah: "I had just moved to Hong Kong and was hung over and late for work. Living on HK island and working Kowloon side I thought it would be best to leg down to a cross harbour taxi rank. I got in the back of the taxi and tried out my best Cantonese:
Me: "Tong Lo Wan um goy"
The driver looked at me like I was stupid and asked me where?
Me: "Tong Lo Wan um goy" I repeated
The driver looked confused and I was getting irritated
Me: "Tong Lo Wan!" I shouted and then pointed across the harbour which was handily placed in front of us.
This carried on for another couple of minutes before it dawned on me that: 1.The taxi rank I was sitting in was in fact in Tong Lo Wan (Causeway Bay), 2. I wanted to go to Kowloon Wan and had just got my simple attempt at Cantonese completely wrong."
66 min: "Tales of ineptitude?" asks Liam Mosely. "I present Gael Clichy." He certainly didn't cover himself in glory tonight. Bosingwa floats in a cross so gorgeous it ought to be soundtracked by Babybird, but somehow it evades three Chelsea heads in the area.
67 min: Balotelli, slightly forlornly, whacks a limp shot at goal from distance. Hart gathers with ease.
69 min: Balotelli, Silva and Zabaleta exchange passes on the edge of the box, but Chelsea get a foot in and streak forward on the break.
70 min: Cross, clear. Cross, clear. Chelsea are knocking on the door, but City are hiding behind the sofa, keeping the lights off, turning the TV down and generally pretending they're not in. Either way, that door isn't opening. Yet …
72 min: Sturridge shoots from long-range but it's more optimistic than a polar bear in dark glasses trying to get into a penguin's only nightclub. (©Blackadder). Lampard replaces Meireles.
73 min: Crosses continue to pepper the City area. Ramires is booked for chopping down Balotelli (who was shooting at Cech, rather than Hart, a few minutes ago). Silva off, De Jong on – how's that for a signal of intent?
74 min: Tales of Ineptitude, part MCMVIII: "We were camping in wet wet Wales," begins Kurt Weithaler. "We decided to go pony trekking. The stable wanted our weights in order to assign suitable steeds. My mate clearly mixed up stones and kilos because my mount required a ladder for me to get on board. Halfway through, the beast began to urinate copiously. The assembled riders and staff immediately started shouting at me to 'stand up' This instruction I struggled to obey, eventually balancing precariously with my feet on the saddle but without daring to to take the final step and straighten up. Cue hysterical laughter from all assembled as it was explained to me that I should stand up in the stirrups. Throughout this the animal continued to flood the roadside. I have never overcome the shame."
76 min: It's certainly not hot-knife-through-butter stuff from Chelsea. More the continual smacking of a solid wooden spoon. Drogba goes into the book for going in on Zabaleta.
79 min: That would have been something special! Drogba with a cracking backheel into the path of Ramires, but the midfielder can only poke tamely at goal.
81 min: PENALTY TO CHELSEA!!! Sturridge thwacks a shot against Lescott's raised appendages. He could do little about it, but his arms were out there, like one of those flailing inflatable things you see outside car dealerships …
GOAL!!! Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City (Lampard 82pen) Lampard missed one at Newcastle the other week, but he thumps this one down the middle with a fury. Hart dives low. Chelsea lead!
83 min: Malouda replaces Ramires … nope change of plan – Malouda replaces Mata. City have barely threatened in this second half. Can they come up with something now?
84 min: Mancini plays his final card – Dzeko replaces Joleon Lescott. "Twenty years ago, I went into a record shop," begins Steven Hughes. "I was going in to buy a copy of Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album. Appropriately enough, the turntable on the front desk had its stylus at the start of one side and 'Smells Like Teen Sprit' was blaring out. I made a point of jabbing my index finger at the turntable and just saying: "I'll have that please!". It was merely the 12" version of the single. After my ostentatious request, I was too embarrassed to say that I'd actually meant the album. I shuffled out and had to wait another long day before buying the album itself."
86 min: Milner whips in a free-kick from wide on the left … and it's a shocker. The sort of delivery that has everyone tearing their hair out. Overhit by a distance.
87 min: Sturridge off, Mikel on. He's had a very good night for Chelsea.
89 min: Drogba wins a corner. Chelsea are going to run this down.
90 min: Four minutes to play, but City haven't looked like scoring for the best part of an hour.
90+2 min: Drogba spins away from two City players on the right wing and hammers a swerving, dipping, frankly ridiculous effort at goal that's not all that far away. That rolled back a few years.
90+4 min: Big hat-tip should go to Villas-Boas tonight. Tactically he has got this spot on.
Peep! Peep!! Peeeeeeeep!!! All over! City's unbeaten record comes to an end.
Well, that was a superb effort from Chelsea. They could, perhaps should, have been two down before the half an hour was played, but they clung on and turned it round with that old inexorable will, not to mention a large scoop of tactical nous.
Right, that's it from me. "If tonight's ineptitude riff can be summarised in a cartoon, I think it's this Gary Larson classic," writes Nick Pettigrew. Good shout that. Thanks as ever for all your emails, particularly your tales of ineptitude, many of which had me chuckling heartily. Stick around on site to have your say on the blog and read the match reaction. But from me, cheerio!