Another weekend has passed and another heavyweight match has been played, giving us a better indication of where the 2016/17 Premier League trophy may end up. Manchester City hosted the Blues and ended up getting their weaknesses exposed in an end-to-end 3-1 defeat. Rather than having everything their own way the Citizens are going to be made to work for it if they’re serious about winning another title in Pep Guardiola’s maiden season. Antonio Conte, on the other hand, is busy taking Chelsea from strength to strength as they continue to mount a convincing charge for silverware. The match had some key moments, though, and will have repercussions for the tough December month for both sides.
1 – David Luiz appears to be a new player:
The Brazilian center back had a rather inconsistent period during his first stint in London, with many pundits wondering whether he had the correct temperament and ability to be a central defender. He was a little too keen on dribbling out of his own half or trying his best impression of David Beckham’s Hollywood passes to be considered a reliable defensive option. His time at Paris St. Germain was similarly average, with a particularly bad show against Barcelona in the Champions League where Luis Suarez gave him the run around all evening. His return to Chelsea was understandably greeted with skepticism but contrary to expectations he’s managed to slot into Conte’s 3-4-3 system and looks about as dependable as any Premier League center back. Whether this is down to Luiz’s own improvement, Conte’s managerial ability, or a combination of both, Luiz has cemented his place and is currently making Chelsea an increasingly difficult team to beat.
2 – Aleksandar Kolarov can’t play at centre back:
Pep Guardiola is well-known for his tactical innovation since his time at Barcelona where he enjoyed changing formation and occasionally using players out of position, such as employing Lionel Messi as a false #9 to great effect. He has dabbled in formation changes for City this season, as well as moving some players into positions they’re not known for playing. Left-back by trade, Kolarov is a good example as one of these intriguing decisions. While it seems to be acceptable against the smaller teams that don’t pressure City’s defense, against bigger teams like Chelsea his age and lack of experience in the position are starkly highlighted. He spent all afternoon either being bullied by the formidably physical Diego Costa, or being outpaced by Willian for Chelsea’s second goal. Pep will need to decide whether he can continue putting square pegs in round holes, it may suffice in easier matches but they will continue to pay for it against the high quality sides.
3 – Chelsea is beating fellow challengers:
Considering how tightly contested this season’s league appears to be, with only four points separating first and fourth, Chelsea’s performances against the other title challengers indicates they can go the distance. Ever since their patchy start with losses to Liverpool and Arsenal in quick succession Chelsea have managed a recovery that saw them pick up wins against Tottenham and City barely a week apart. They also dismantled Manchester United in a comprehensive 4-0 win, and had a similarly impressive performance when they beat Everton 5-0. If they continue to beat the other teams trying to get to the summit they’ll increase their 3-point gap during the tough Christmas period. The top teams will be expected to thump the bottom half sides easily, the key matches will be the ones where they can take points from their many competitors.
4 – Chelsea will need a new centre back soon:
Despite the fact that their defense held up well at the weekend and that they have the best goal difference in the league there have been occasions where Chelsea’s defense looked less than comfortable. John Terry has reached the end of his road as an elite Premier League defender, and while Gary Cahill has done an admirable job of trying to take up Terry’s mantle time is catching up with him too. Besides an unlucky own goal Cahill looked uncomfortable on several occasions against City’s rapid attack. Cahill is generally best when he’s got an organizing partner in defense that leads the line, the way Terry did for so long. He struggles to maintain his composure when he’s asked to lead the line himself, though, and if Conte intends on sticking with a formation that requires three central defenders he’ll need to make provision for the fact that two of his best options are unlikely to be first choice options next season.
5 – Aguero deservedly receives a 4-match ban:
Barely 24 hours after their defeat Manchester City had insult added to injury as the FA announced Aguero was to be suspended for four matches after his malicious challenge on David Luiz. Luiz and Aguero have had rather feisty run-ins in previous matches both for club and country, but it boiled over at the weekend when Aguero lunged into David Luiz with a studs-up challenge that was rewarded with a straight red card. Not only does it show a lack of maturity on Aguero’s part for allowing his temper to get the better of him, but it also means his team will be without his services for the matches against Leicester (A), Watford (H), Arsenal (H), and Hull (A). The December schedule is always tough, and City will need to cope without their most prolific scorer as they play those matches in only 16 days. In almost all preceding Premier League seasons the team that has been top at Christmas has won the league, Aguero may have hurt City’s title chances considerably, particularly if they falter against Arsenal and give up more ground to Chelsea who have easier fixtures.
The Premier League is about to head into its busiest period in the next week, and if Chelsea manage to continue their dominant performances they’re likely to extend their gap at the top of the league. Without any concern over European football their squad won’t have its fitness and depth tested too strenuously and Conte’s Blues will have a fairly simple schedule to work with as long as their performances remain consistent.
What were your thoughts on the match this weekend? Let us know by tweeting us @MenStuffZA!