The day's talk of a symbolic shift in football power had a very particular flavour in New York on Saturday evening, as Chelsea and Manchester City played the second of two exhibition matches on a brief post-season US tour, at a Yankee Stadium that may soon be home to regular Major League Soccer games.
For sure, the day's main conversation, here as elsewhere, may have been on the all-German ascendancy of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, and the opening of a new front in Europe, but locally (and for New York, the local is the global), the exhibition game had been given added piquancy by the news this week that City had teamed up with the Yankees to form New York City FC.
And with no home stadium confirmed for the long-anticipated second New York MLS team (and the path towards one strewn with New York political obstacles), the sight of the Yankees pitching mound bisected by a touchline may be less of a curio and more of a blueprint for what Major League Soccer will initially look like when NYCFC starts play in 2015. Certainly the day brought the clearest signs yet that that is the current plan with Yankees ownership, in the shape of Hal Steinbrenner speaking positively about the idea.
For Saturday evening though, once the Champions League final had been negotiated (Yankees Stadium opened early to show the game on the big scoreboard), two of the competition's talented also-rans played out a dutifully goal-packed, if only intermittently thrilling encounter on a continent both have strong, if differently articulated, ambitions in.
The opening exchanges off the field went Chelsea's way, as City were significantly out-cheered by a Chelsea fan contingent who have been assiduously courted by the London club in recent years - from extensive pre-season tours to playing in MLS All Star games, Chelsea have taken the traditional route of touring their European hits. City on the other hand, have been a more recently visible presence in the US, though this week's news has catapulted them to the forefront of at least New York City's soccer consciousness.
When the game got under way, City wasted no time in their battle for local hearts and minds by taking an early lead — albeit gifted by Chelsea. Hilario's poor kick clear was followed by an even poorer intercepted backpass by Oscar, and despite the keeper's first scrambled save from Aguero, Gareth Barry had a simple tap-in to open the scoring. Chelsea had their chance in the opening period — even having the ball in the net in a bizarre sequence where a ball was thrown onto the field as a corner was being taken, and Hart being forced to palm the retaken corner onto the crossbar. But as the sides went in at half time they were 2-0 down — Nasri reaching a through ball first to deftly chip Hilario, just on the half hour mark.
The first game between the two had been a rather wild, demob-happy affair in front of a sellout crowd in St Louis, that had ended in City winning 4-3 after being 0-3 down. For the first half at least, this game seemed understandably slower, as two teams waiting for new eras to begin played out the last minutes of their respective old ones.
A raft of substitutions at half time allowed Chelsea back into the game as Ramires skipped round Richard Wright to pull one back in the 46th minute, but Chelsea didn't have the appetite to press further at that point and City extended their lead through a low shot across Cech from another one of their subs, Milner. That briefly looked to have killed the game as a contest, but as the game drifted into the last quarter it came to life again.
First, Torres got the better of Lescott on the right of the box and his cross from the byline was touched home at point blank range by Ramires in the 69th minute. Yet again City quickly restored the gap. Nasri bursting through some indifferent marking on the left of the box to lift the ball over Cech in the 74th minute, before Mata kept the pattern going by curling a free kick from the edge of the box into the top right corner in the 82nd minute. Again though, the one goal margin lasted only a couple of minutes as Dzeko turned, cut inside and unleashed a fierce shot from distance into the bottom right corner of Cech's goal.
In truth it was more frayed than frenetic at this point, with two tired teams apparently playing on muscle memory, and gaps opening up across the pitch — though the likes of the City substitute Milner were industrious to the end, as the game finished 5-3 to City.
Chelsea and Benitez quietly took their leave (the latter refused to speak to press after either of the games) to return home and wait, presumably, for Mourinho. For City, of course, the victory was less important than the raised stakes of their presence in New York this week. As the game ended a banner proclaiming the names "Manchester" and "New York" followed by the City F.C. logo was paraded around the edge of the field. It reminded those present that London may have hosted the meaningful football action of the day, but in New York, even as the grounds staff set to work hosing the unfamiliar lines off the Yankee Stadium baseball diamond, City had left a mark.
Manchester City: Hart; Kompany (C), Zabaleta, Kolarov, Boyata; Nasri, Barry, Silvaa, Toure; Aguero, Tevez
Chelsea: Hilario; Luiz, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Ake; Ramires, Oscar, Obi Mikel, Loftus-Cheek; Ba, Torres (C)
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