Gary Cahill, after suffering the worst fate possible on a football pitch, his right shin still ringing from its connection with the ball, is lying on the ground. He hopes, as all players do after scoring an own goal, that it consumes him, welcomes him into its dark and earthy depths for he, the OG, deserves it. As Sergio Aguero runs towards Jesus Navas in the corner of the pitch, he stoops to ruffle Cahill’s head as he passes. This, no-one deserves.
Ninety-sixth minute. The ball has been overrun; Luiz, the hero, comes across to cover. Aguero dives forth, legs first, wrapping his armoury around the Brazilian’s knees. This, this ‘tackle’, no player deserves.
A long ball is played by Kevin de Bruyne, which Aguero is battling with Cesar Azpilecueta to get there. Azpi, attempting something between control and backpass, knees it backwards into space, beyond his comrade in arms David Luiz and far too far away from Thibaut Courtois for him to collect. Luiz, the hero, takes one step forward and one to his left, the City striker tumbling. Cloaked in darkness, the referee makes no call. This, Aguero deserves.
Amidst a melee of pushing, neck grabs, and cheek slaps that spreads its way like a virus into the bench and into the crowd, Sergio Aguero is sent off. This, Aguero deserves.
Time is best viewed, according to people in labs with marker pens and large brains, not as a straight line. Time can bend. Time can be torn through. Cause and effect does not necessarily follow a linear narrative.
It has puzzled some that Guardiola has played Stones in the centre of his back 3, with Otamendi on the right, but this match in particular showed that it makes perfect sense. Otamendi’s default setting is to rush out for tackle or interception that’s only 30% in his favour, and Stones was on hand many times, in the first half in particular, to help clear things up.
Unfortunately for Guardiola, this wasn’t a game where going for 30-70 chances was the ideal way to go. His attempt to round two-thirds of Diego Costa to intercept the ball which led to Chelsea’s second aside, Otamendi was made to look a fool on a King-Kong handful of occasions, throwing his legs forward in a slide that too often missed the ball completely.
Not that it was a foregone conclusion, when Otamendi set-out to round 3 sides of a pentagon, that he would be humiliated. On another day, Costa would be less aware of his presence and would be caught out, or the centre-back would get there sooner and win the ball. But this was not another day.
Moving Stones centrally also moves him to the deepest point of defence when the team is in possession, giving a footballing reason to shaft him aside and out of Pep’s assigned passing patterns. Stones dithers. There’s a lack of trust – in himself, in his team-mates, in himself again – to play the pass that he sees before him, a fear. It would seem odd to say that fear makes a player try and manufacture a way to shepherd the ball out of play with Diego Costa at his back in his own box, but fear is a terrible thing. Fear crushes logic, dissolves it in acid to leave you with no options, trapped between the line and a hard face.
Stones got the ball nicked from him inside his own box fewer than ten minutes into the game, and at that point both sides were pressing high and mightily, and forcing their opponents to play nervously and play long. But if ever a match starts off with a press paced for a 100m sprint, it will be sure to open up in a big way once the players start to realise that the finish line is still a long way off.
It’s obvious, it’s inevitable, and it’s what happened today. Linear cause and effect in action this time.
From more or less the hour mark onwards, both sides’ midfields were dead. The decision by Guardiola, when the game needed legs, to bring Yaya Toure on was perhaps bizarre. But City were the side which was primarily building attacks. Chelsea were forced to set their defence, but left enough forward to exploit the spaces and mistakes that City left littered in the middle of the park.
But not everything or everybody got an ending that they deserved today. While Cahill didn’t deserve Aguero’s hand to be rubbed into his fresh wound, he had a troubled game. In the third minute, Navas’s run from half-space to wing drew Cahill towards him and opened up a lovely space for De Bruyne to thread a ball through. Just a few minutes later, Silva got to the byline and, as Cahill dived, cut back, the ball colliding with the Englishman’s arm. It wasn’t a penalty, but it was certainly a humiliation.
Chances came and went on both sides, but the principal stand-out was De Bruyne’s. Not solely because of the open net, the four short yards to goal – Gianfranco Zola in the Sky Sports studio said he missed worse than that – but because De Bruyne deserved, needed, more than that.
Every five minutes, every beat that the game took, there was De Bruyne emerging with a wonderful pass. In fact, the word ‘pass’ doesn’t do these journeys that he sent the ball on, a trajectory so perfect that it deserves the study that constellations in the heavens receive, justice.
When the tomato arrived in Europe from the Americas, we didn’t have a word for it in English. It was, and still is pomodoro in Italian, for a while it was pomme d’amour in France, and thus was known interchangeably as ‘golden apple’, ‘golden fruit’, and ‘apple of love’ in Britain.
This new red fruit was so unlike anything the Europeans were regularly used to, it took a while for a name to catch on. But they got there in the end. One day we will find a word for Kevin de Bruyne’s performance today too.
FT: Manchester City 1 (Cahill OG 45′) – Chelsea 3 (Costa 60′, Willian 70′, Hazard 90′)