Manchester City came from behind and withheld late pressure from Chelsea as they claimed their first silverware of the 2012/13 season thanks to goals from Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri.
Chelsea had taken the lead through Fernando Torres just before half-time but a blistering second half blew them away, a late Ryan Bertrand goal merely a consolation in an enthralling start to the new football season.
Packed with goals, talking points and, overall, great entertainment value, it was perhaps exactly what the game needed: with the Olympics and Euro 2012 dominating the summer and leaving little break before football regains its place at the forefront of the nation’s collective mind, scepticism and general weariness for the new season is understandably high.
City manager Roberto Mancini might be frustrated with the lack of transfers this summer but it’s clear that City don’t need a great deal of improvement. Mancini’s use of 3-4-1-2 – which provides adequate cover at the back but ample attacking force too – would be ideal for apparent target Daniel Agger, as he could slot in on the left side of the three-man defence.
City’s impending expensive acquisition of Everton’s Jack Rodwell seems slightly odd as he wouldn’t improve the starting eleven or even significantly improve the immediate first team, but he adds depth to the central midfield position and possibly helps City with the home grown rule, with Adam Johnson possibly leaving the club soon.
At Villa Park, City pressed from the front, the energy of Tevez – who looks back to his best – and tenacity of Aguero putting John Obi Mikel and Ramires particularly under pressure, both whom struggled in the first half. Ramires’ boundless energy was neutralised by City overcrowding the midfield, with Nigel De Jong, Nasri, Toure and at least one of the centre-backs usually in that area.
Plus, the attacking intents of both full-backs pushed the Chelsea wingers back and the cover from wider centre-backs covered adequately if needed. Chelsea, as they did last season, defended deep, which meant City had to be clever and quick in the build-up rather than run into space. One-touch passes and quick movement didn’t always come off, but the intelligence and vision, particularly between the trio of Nasri, Tevez and Sergio Aguero, was there.
While City fielded similar personnel to last season – albeit in a slightly new system – Chelsea attempted to blood in one of their new boys, Eden Hazard. The Belgian is expected to take time to get used to English football but there were signs of his genuine class. Jinking runs and excellent acceleration were on show and a decent shot straight at Costel Pantilimon shows confidence, but the over-exuberant attempt at a backheel which resulted in the 21-year-old face-planting the turf added some hilarity to the match. While Hazard is undoubtedly talented technically and will light up the Premier League, he would do better – for now – to merely keep the game simple. Collect the ball, run at players (he needs to realise he doesn’t have to beat every on his own), provide crosses for a resurgent Torres and cut out the unnecessary theatrics.
Torres may not have been given great service and was an isolated figure at times today but one of his main problems last season was that, when he eventually did get the chances, he fluffed them. In opening the scoring with a composed finish, he showed that the confidence seen in Poland & Ukraine and towards the end of last season will continue into this season. Ramires deserves immense credit for quick feet and intelligence in the build-up as, when he collected the ball outside the area, he didn’t snatch at it; he took it, looked up, drifted past the City defence and then slipped in Torres magnificently.
Having just taken the lead, Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo would have wanted his side to calmly see the half out and go into half-time with the momentum firmly on their side. But Branoslav Ivanovic’s reckless challenge – with one foot connecting with Aleksandr Kolarov’s shin, the other with the ball and then his ankle – meant that not only did Chelsea go into the break a man down, City now had the bit between their teeth.
And so it showed within ten minutes, as Toure scored the obligatory Yaya Toure Goal of (Great?) Importance, smashing in low following a poor attempt at a clearance from John Terry. Within five minutes, City took the lead; Tevez gliding past David Luiz and a hapless Terry to then smash one into the top corner. The Argentinean looks more energetic and more eager now than he has done in recent seasons. Just as this could be the season of re-emergence for Torres, this could be Tevez’ year.
Nasri extended the lead just past the hour mark, snatching a volley from eight yards with Chelsea too deep in their own area, and Ryan Bertrand tapped in from close range following a fizzing Danny Sturridge effort that Pantilimon didn’t deal with first time round and was too slow to reclaim the ball afterwards.
Aguero should have scored in the last minute, skewing wide from six yards but, as pre-season warm-ups go, this one was good for the teams and for the fans who – despite the obvious come-down as the Olympics comes to an end – will relish more football like this this season.