Chelsea’s 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night gave Jose Mourinho’s side the inside track on the Premier League title. With a much more favorable run-in than their title rivals, Mourinho’s men have put themselves in an advantageous position to win the title. The match at the Etihad was won by Chelsea midfield, most particularly Mourinho signings Willian and Nemanja Matić.
This past summer Manchester City took what many, including myself, thought was a huge risk in buying Fernandinho who had played the last eight seasons in Ukraine for £30 million. The signing was not only City’s most expensive of the summer but the third most expensive in club history. This for a player who at 28 has only four caps for his national team and who has never played in a top European league.
We knew when he was signed that Fernandinho was an adept passer from a deep-lying midfield spot and had the athleticism and pace to get forward and join the attack when needed. What Fernandinho has ended up being is one of the best high-priced signings in English football, and an indispensable part of the Manchester City side. So indispensable the player has become when the team sheet came out for Monday’s top of the table clash with Chelsea, Citizens fans began to panic at the Brazilian’s omission.
Manchester City have endured long-term injuries to Sergio Aguero (on multiple occasions), David Silva and Samir Nasri this season. However, not since Vincent Kompany’s early season injury problems has panic so easily set in among Citizen Supporters about the loss of a single player. Those who watch City closely know that Fernandinho has actually been the single most influential individual in the club’s rise up the table from sitting 8th at the last international break to top of the table entering this past weekend’s fixtures.
In the Brazilian’s place came Martín Demichelis, a centre-half typically, who despite criticism from some City faithful, he has been a strong addition to the squad. The Argentine has plenty of pedigree and had, at times, played in the midfield for Bayern Munich. However he was overmatched by Chelsea’s quickness in movement particularly from Willian who was preferred to Oscar in the center of midfield. So limited were Manuel Pellegrini’s options on the day in fact that he included two youth players on his bench as well as James Milner who was nursing a groin injury. Eden Hazard also had his way with Demichelis who sadly was scapegoated by many City supporters for the loss.
Fernandinho fits the profile of the type of player Jose Mourinho tends to covet. While much has been made of The Special One’s decision to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United, Monday’s match is a clear example of why a player like Mata, who lingers on the ball, does not track back and tends to lack tactical discipline, thus becoming surplus to requirements at Chelsea.
While Chelsea’s decision to buy-back former Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matić from Benfica, at a greatly inflated price, was mocked, he was the single standout player of the Chelsea victory. The Serbian essentially marked Yaya Toure out of the game using a physical approach while showing great athleticism and pace to get forward and join the counter-attack.
In this match, Matić showed not only an ability to move the ball quickly and with precision, but also to defend well and provide extra physical cover for the back line, seamlessly slotting into a defensive posture when necessity required it. Simply put, he bossed the midfield.
Mourinho’s Chelsea has been a work in progress all season. But the addition of Matić and the dumping of Mata as well as Kevin De Bruyne makes the team look more Mourinho-esque and less Michael Emenalo hodgepodge buying Chelsea than before the January window. This served Mourinho’s side well at the Etihad and will continue to build the side’s style and character.