The end to City’s Fixture Hell mini-run saw the Tigers meekly capitulate to a dull but workmanlike Chelsea, with City largely being the architects of their own downfall in the second half.
After last week’s capitulation at Anfield our perma-caretaker manager made three changes – bringing in Dieumerci Mbokani, Markus Henriksen and David Meyler, who replaced Ahmed Elmohamady at right back:
Meyler Livermore Davies Robertson
Snodgrass Henriksen Mason
For their part Chelsea switched to a two man defence (or three, if you include David Luiz) in an attempt to halt their poor recent form.
Proceedings started after a minute’s applause for young City fan Megan Pratt, who tragically passed away this week at the age of 13.
City started brightly and on the front foot – Mbokani’s charge forward was illegally terminated on the edge of the Chelsea box but the Snodster’s free kick deflects off the wall forcing Courtois to palm over at full stretch. In fact my notes suggest it was a full 190 seconds into the match before Chelsea had full possession of the ball. Well played City, take it to them!
Jake Livermore, possibly playing his final game at centre half, pinged a sumptuous early ball forward to Mbokani, who couldn’t control at full stretch, but it demonstrated the City attacking intent and the tactical role of the big Congolese frontman.
Three minutes later a storming City move down the right saw four Tigers play simple one-two passing which ended with a cross easily collected by Courtois. Bright start, City. At this point City are the equals of their expensively-assembled visitors, and there’s a real feeling we could trouser at least a point today against a nervous opposition in a bad run of form.
As the electronic touchline hoardings inexplicably urge the fans to sing Tom Huddlestone’s name, Hazard spanners a cross-field ball out for a City throw, easily collected by big Tom on the bench. This ain’t a great Chelsea side – possibly the worst we’ve played at home in the Premier League. We can get something today.
But then the pace of the game slows, which suits Chelsea more than it does City and allows Hazard (the best player on the pitch) and Willian to stroke simple balls around before moving into space to re-collect.
It’s simple, it’s dull, it’s effective, it’s Chelsea.
On the spin side City suffer; Mbokani is a human battering ram forward, and it appears he unsettles Luiz and Cahill by getting in their faces by chasing early forward balls. Cahill in particular looks a limited player who has spent a proportion of his career being carried by John Terry of all players, and Luiz is always 5 seconds from spectacularly dropping to the ground with a fake facial injury. It’s Chelsea.
The first half ends with the visitors finally collecting yellow cards for a series of niggly (and undoubtedly deliberate) fouls around the pitch, and the sides go in equal in terms of scoreline and performance. Well played, City.
Half-time sees a pitchside procession of some of the impressive Hull 2017 City of Culture volunteer army, and there’s warm applause simply for the fact they were forced to create a West Park supporter “guard of honour” from the ludicrously early time of 12.30pm (apparently City demanded they leave KCOM premises once they’d carefully placed the 20k flags on all seats). At this point a special mention for the KC stewarding representative who labelled all football fans as “animals” during his pre-match briefing to the volunteers, by then probably wondering what the hell they’d let themselves in for. Compare and contrast to the lively events at that family sport over in East Hull later in the day….
The second half couldn’t have been more different. Chelsea appeared to step up a gear, and City’s appeared stuck in neutral. Our visitors played further up the field, more down to City regularly coughing cheap midfield possession than any increased attacking intent. Indeed both Chelsea goals were as a result of City errors – albeit great finishes. On the hour Curtis Davies played the ball out of defence straight to Costa, and quick passing saw Willian curl exquisitely into the top corner from the far side of the penalty area. Only five minutes later the ball is given away in midfield and Matic’s shot is deflected back out to Costa who curls into the net in similar fashion.
At 0-2 there’s no way back for City, and with a quarter of the game still to play it was all about damage limitation and Bournemouth preparation. Abel Hernández comes on for Henriksen (who had a poor League debut, to be honest), Shaun Maloney for Adame Diomande before Huddlestone completed his pre-sub warmup (which consists of standing up and stretching his arms for 3 seconds) to bafflingly come on for Sam Clucas. The fact Ryan Mason wasn’t shepherd crooked was odd given his totally ineffectual performance, but I guess that’s a clause built into the contract of all record signings. Early days for all our new signings, of course, and possibly greater space in the Dean Court midfield may see Mason shine a little brighter.
Chelsea effectively played the remainder of the game out, with City continuing to cough up possession cheaply in a way stratospherically different to the performance against Leicester those few short weeks ago.
Andy Robertson was inexplicably awarded the Man of the Match award, and the pisspoor crowd of 21k trudged out of the KC. A little over 20k against one of the biggest club in England with entry up to £17 cheaper than last time we played them? A reminder of your legacy right there, Ehab. Sidenote: also shabby that the 200 or so City of Culture volunteers were forced by City staff to actually stand outside the KCOM Sports Bar until the match actually kicked off, then were squeezed into the bar to watch the game on TV rather than filling some of those 4,000 empty seats. Another slow handclap for the Allams and their oft-vaunted community legacy.
So now an international break, which brings Michael Dawson two weeks closer to a return, freeing Livermore to dominate our midfield once again. A bad match against Chelsea isn’t going to define our season, but non-performances against Bournemouth, Stoke, Sunderland and West Brom most certainly will.
(reproduced by kind permission of the Tiger Chat mailing list)