The day has come and two former Real Madrid managers have clashed in a Premier League game.
As such, it shows the ever evolving nature of a truly global league. Not only were the managers foreign and with such high experience, so too were the players. Of the 22 who began the game, only Javi Garcia, Fernandinho, Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard are yet to play for their national team at a major competition.
And what of nationalities? The managers were Portuguese and Chilean. In addition to seven Englishmen -- seven Spaniards, five Brazilians, three Argentines, three Serbs, two Frenchmen, a German, an Australian, a Belgian, an Ivorian, a Nigerian, a Czech, a Romanian, a Bosnian and a Cameroonian occupied both side’s matchday squads.
It signifies the ever-growing presence of footballers from across the globe that find themselves in what is known as the greatest League in the world.
Beyond that as well was a different style. Before the Arsene Wenger era in the Premier League, the league was defined by its passion and physicality. The complete overhaul has not occurred yet but it is now becoming a trend for well-defined technique to take over. As such, the fans still cheer those lung-bursting runs; the clattering of boots as a defender flies into a tackle; the seemingly non-sensical hoof of a last man’s clearance; the runs of a winger down to the by-line to deliver a lengthy cross; the rising head of a striker to powerfully head the ball past a goalkeeper.
This identity is slowly being replaced. Nowhere was it ever more evident than in West London on Sunday.
There was no erratic running that produces end to end escapades. Instead, there was patience and appreciation of space. There was thinking – what to do next, where to stand, where to run. Long passes – if any – were a rarity and the ones that were executed displayed vision and precision.
A game that produced such minimal chances at goal but was eye-catching all the way. It thus inadvertedly turned into one big chess game for the managers. Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho displaying the defensive shape that launches his counter-attacking teams. Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini displaying the sort of fluid movement that creates reverse runs in the attacking third.
The most tactically exciting moments came in the 20 minutes between the hour mark and the 80th minute. With City on the ascendency, Mourinho brought on John Obi Mikel to add more steel to the Chelsea midfield. He also brought on Willian – an attacking midfielder who plays out wide – then instructed him and Eden Hazard to take up narrow positions in the defensive phase. His intention – to congest the midfield area and stop City’s fluidity.
Pellegrini responded well. He added width to his attack – first with Jesus Navas, then with Aleksandar Kolarov. His intention was very well meant to counter Mourinho’s narrowness.
It is something that only intelligent managers are capable of. Seeing the game, reading it and responding. Despite that however, the game ordinarily is a relative dynamic that is sometimes dependent but sometimes independent of any manager’s tactical intentions. For over and above every manager’s thought, a game of such close margins boils down to individual brilliance as well as individual mistakes.
That was certainly the case for Chelsea’s opener. Fernando Torres out-paced Gael Clichy to square it for Andre Schurrle. In the midst of Torres’s brilliance were mistakes from Clichy and Matija Nastasic allowing the cross to come in.
City’s equaliser saw a spark of brilliance from Sergio Aguero. It is a rule of thumb that goalkeepers should never get beaten at their near-post but Petr Cech could not be faulted for how instinctively Aguero shuffled his feet to unleash an unexpected left foot shot and achieve the power he got on it.
The winner on the other hand was most definitely a mistake from Cech’s opposite number. With Nastasic chasing a ball goalwards and at such pace leaving him with nowhere else to head it, Joe Hart made a crucial error in rushing off his line. It ended with an easy goal for a very hard-working Torres.
That goal – and his overall performance -- was a microcosm of the Spanish striker. How he missed a wonderful opportunity, laid off an assist, struck the bar and then got gifted the winner summarised not just his 90 minutes but his whole Chelsea career. A man with such superior class has rarely demonstrated it on a consistent level for Chelsea but on occasion has been unlucky while on others, lucky to score an important goal.
Beyond Torres however was a game at Stamford Bridge that illustrated all the qualities that mean the Premier League is moving away from previous stereotype. Arsene Wenger started the revolution years ago. In games like Chelsea v Man City, the Premier League evolution continues.
image: © dphuonq/