Pellegrini’s pep-talks doing trick for Hammers
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