The truly significant matches – and moments – come at the tail end of the season. Think Liverpool blowing a three-goal lead to Crystal Palace, Gerrard slipping at Anfield, or City stomping all over United at Old Trafford as they mounted their charge to another title last season. We’re not quite in range of that yet, but Saturday’s highly anticipated, ultimately mild clash between the top two horses in a two-horse title race was supposed to be the beginning of these moments. However, what we got was not the Season-Defining Match many thought it might be. Although a late Lampard winner might have flipped the script.
With top players on both sides missing (Toure for City, Costa and Fabregas for Chelsea), the game sorely missed the kind of class we’ve come to expect. In light of missing key pieces, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho went with savvy defensive midfielder Ramires and backup-striker-by-way-of-Newcastle Loic Remy. He also opted for young centerback Kurt Zouma over faithful servant Gary Cahill. Of course all three choices paid off for Mourinho. Ramires was beyond solid working with Matic in the middle of the field, Remy tallied the opening goal, and Zouma utilized his athleticism to keep Sergio Aguero at bay.
Manuel Pellegrini’s lineup choices deserve a hat tip as well though. Fernandinho displayed much-needed stability in the midfield with tough tackles and wise decision-making. Likewise, James Milner proved to be a smart inclusion from Pellegrini. However, it was City’s usual suspects that hooked up for the crucial goal just before halftime. Navas sent a dangerous ball into the box, Aguero struck it back across the goal, and although it was directed wide, Silva wonderfully poached a deflection past the Chelsea defense for the equalizer. Keeper Thibaut Courtois made a rare mistake by aggressively pursuing the Navas cross, but credit City for teaming up for a monster goal on the road.
A few minutes prior, Chelsea’s offense hooked up for a lovely opening goal when Ivanovic lobbed an impeccably weighted ball to Eden Hazard who volleyed an accurate cross to the waiting Remy, who slammed it home. This turned out to be the lone cohesive effort going forward for the Blues. Devoid of Cesc Fabregas’ midfield wizardry, Oscar, Willian, and even Hazard looked uninterested or incapable of creating much momentum. However, the second half mostly featured a placated Mourinho side pretty chill with just taking the point against their only real challenger for the title.
Can you blame him though? With a five-point lead on City in the table and a thin, inexperienced bench, it made sense to stay defensively disciplined and offensively timid. Pellegrini can gripe all he wants, but he undoubtedly would’ve done the same.
Two Chelsea legends would enter late on, Drogba for the Blues and Lampard for the opposing club. Super Frank was given an energetic, full-hearted welcome by Chelsea fans, but they had to be at least slightly nervous he would spoil the day again with another late piece of magic, followed by no celebration of course.
This time, that unbelievable storyline didn’t come to fruition. Both sides move on satisfied, but decidedly not exhilarated at the result. Chelsea remain in front comfortably; City stay within striking distance, knowing full well a loss at Stamford could’ve knocked them out for good. Looks like we’ll just have to wait a few more weeks for those season-defining moments.