The pre-match build-up suggested we might see an exciting, fast-paced encounter. Chelsea had dispatched 21 Premier League goals already but – more significantly – Manchester City had conceded only two. Roberto Mancini made defence his priority in this game, and challenged Chelsea to break down his Sky Blue wall.
Against Blackpool a week earlier, Chelsea roared to high, wide, forward positions and thrashed in some unplayable early crosses. Mancini had taken note. In an uneventful, at times boring first period, the visitors never broke free of City's straitjacket. The game got strangled. City, sitting deep, left little space behind their back four while the full-backs were well covered by the wide midfielders, James Milner and David Silva. Mancini's mantra seemed to be: "Come and beat us if you can." Chelsea controlled possession but could not muster much of a threat, with Didier Drogba well marshalled by Kolo Touré and his excellent defensive partner, Vincent Kompany.
Relying on counterattacking can be a dangerous policy when playing at home. Your supporters expect you to take the game to the opposition, but if they gain the belief that you can threaten the opposition on the break, they will learn to accept this tactic. Here Carlos Tevez was left to forage, hustle and chase as a lone striker, a role he enjoys. For much of the game it looked likely to end in a no-score draw, with Petr Cech, like Joe Hart, rarely troubled.
Chelsea might have provided a partner for Drogba early in the game, at the expense of their midfield sitter, Mikel John Obi. They may have been forced to play more direct as a result, bypassing midfield at times, but it was a day for such tactics. Instead they were guilty of being too patient with the ball, giving City time to get in position. So when Chelsea's full-backs, so important to their play, received the ball they had few options.
If City continue to play this system home and away they will concede few goals. Mancini can justify this blockade against the champions, but it will be fascinating to see if they play lesser teams in the same fashion.
This is comment. GNM does not necessarily support the views expressed.