Pel­le­grini’s pep-talks do­ing trick for Ham­mers

Sunday Express - - PREMIER LEAGUE - Jim Holden

SO, the wiz­ards of Manch­ester City aren’t in­vin­ci­ble. So, we will have a crack­ing Pre­mier League sea­son with sev­eral clubs in con­tention. So, there is good rea­son why Chelsea boss Mau­r­izio Sarri has such a high rep­u­ta­tion as a foot­ball man­ager.

What a treat was de­liv­ered by the re­sult that ev­ery­one in English foot­ball apart from City fans had been crav­ing – a de­feat for the daz­zling reign­ing cham­pi­ons and a chance for all the rest.

Chelsea’s vic­tory, carved out with goals from N’Golo Kante and David Luiz, and from 90 min­utes of classy re­silience, was pow­er­ful vin­di­ca­tion of Sarri’s work thus far at Stam­ford Bridge.

No­body rates the Ital­ian more highly than Pep Guardi­ola, and the City boss was maybe the least sur­prised man at Stam­ford Bridge yes­ter­day as his team ended the night in sec­ond place in the Pre­mier League ta­ble.

City haven’t been that low for some time. They hadn’t lost in the League for 21 games but Guardi­ola has never bought into the easy nar­ra­tive that his team are un­beat­able. He, and they, can suf­fer too.

The match was a treat for the con­nois­seur, full of tech­ni­cal skill on the ball from high-class foot­ballers and full of tac­ti­cal in­no­va­tion by the cere­bral man­agers.

Both opted to field teams with­out a recog­nised cen­tral striker, fill­ing their at­tacks with clever and speedy diminu­tive play­ers, and both sides were re­lent­less in press­ing their op­po­nents in mid­field.

It made for a first half of pre­cious few chances, and if pos­ses­sion of the ball was dom­i­nated by City it was Chelsea who took the lead just be­fore the break.

Ra­heem Ster­ling started as the most ad­vanced for­ward for City, and he might have scored in the ninth minute af­ter a light­ning break in which he was in­flu­en­tial. The fi­nal shot, though, was too tame to trou­ble Kepa, the Chelsea keeper.

Mid­way through the half, Ster­ling switched with Riyad Mahrez to play on the right flank and he cre­ated an­other clear op­por­tu­nity when he skipped past Mar­cus Al­sono with a sub­lime piece of trick­ery on the by-line. A low cross found Leroy Sane but his shot was su­perbly blocked by Ce­sar Azpilicueta.

Eden Haz­ard had been nom­i­nated as the cen­tral attacker for Chelsea, al­though he saw noth­ing of the ball until the 44th minute. Then he set up a goal. It came from the first proper

CHELSEA ............. 2 MAN CITY ............ 0

WHAT­EVER Manuel Pel­le­grini is say­ing to his West Ham play­ers in the dress­ing room at half-time these days is work­ing.

For the sec­ond game run­ning, the Ham­mers ral­lied at the in­ter­val to crack three sec­ond-half goals and take the points.

It is the first time the Ham­mers have won three league games on the bounce since De­cem­ber 2016.

Pel­le­grini beamed: “It has been a re­ally good week. It is not easy to score three goals in three straight games but the re­sults re­flect the style Chelsea at­tack and it was their first shot of any de­scrip­tion.

David Luiz started the move with a long, rak­ing pass from the back but the vi­tal mo­ment of class came from Haz­ard, who de­liv­ered a per­fect pass into the heart of the box which N’Golo Kante met with an ac­cu­rate shot into the top cor­ner of net.

Was this the dev­as­tat­ing Sarri-ball play de­manded by the Chelsea man­ager? Not re­ally– it was more like old-fash­ioned smash-and-grab foot­ball, though none the worse for that.

Be­fore the game, so many pun­dits had been moan­ing that Sarri was play­ing Kante out of his best po­si­tion to the detri­ment of the team. Per­haps he isn’t so stupid af­ter all.

Now there was a ma­jor test for City, and they were rat­tled in the pe­riod just af­ter the break as Chelsea be­gan to play with a verve and am­bi­tion lack­ing for so long in the first half.

Willian won a free-kick 20 yards out and took the shot him­self, forc­ing a fly­ing, one-handed save from City keeper Eder­son. Guardi­ola had to re­spond, and he did so in con­ven­tional fash­ion when a team needs a goal by in­tro­duc­ing an out-and-out striker in Gabriel Je­sus.

His team be­gan to boss the ball again but City’s in­tense and in­tel­li­gent at­tack­ing pres­sure was met with pow­er­ful re­sis­tance from the Chelsea de­fence as rain lashed the sta­dium. Few open­ings were cre­ated.

The home team soaked up all that City could throw at them and clinched vic­tory with a sim­ple goal in the 78th minute, when Luiz out­jumped the City de­fence to send a loop­ing header into goal. Cue manic cel­e­bra­tions among the Chelsea fans – and doubt­less mil­lions more watch­ing else­where.

And per­haps it will end all the fool­ish cer­tainty of pre­dic­tions about what will hap­pen this sea­son. Only 16 matches have been played; there is a marathon story still to un­fold.

West Ham 3 Crys­tal Palace 2

of foot­ball we want to play. And the play­ers are con­vinced by what we are do­ing.”

The Ham­mers man­aged to fall be­hind af­ter just six min­utes, when Pa­trick van Aan­holt’s free-kick was nod­ded down by James Tomkins and James McArthur was all alone to stab home past Lukasz Fabi­an­ski.

But two min­utes af­ter the restart the hosts were level when the ex­cel­lent Robert Sn­od­grass fired home his first league goal for the club. Then the Ham­mers took the lead when Fe­lipe An­der­son’s free-kick could only be pushed out by Wayne Hen­nessey and Javier Her­nan­dez pounced to fire in the re­bound.

Palace were rock­ing and five min­utes later West Ham had their third, An­der­son curl­ing a glo­ri­ous shot into the far cor­ner.

Palace sub­sti­tute Jef­frey Schlupp scored a con­so­la­tion from Max Meyer’s cross but it was all too late.

Palace boss Roy Hodg­son said: “We were for­tu­nate to be ahead at half-time but then we con­ceded three goals and ended up chas­ing the game. And against a side of West Ham’s qual­ity, that’s not easy.”

CLINCHER: David Luiz OUR MAN OF THE MATCH

WIN­NER: Fe­lipe An­der­son scores

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