EPL

Mahrez has Man City on the mend - apart from Mendy

By Sports Desk November 23, 2019

If winning ugly truly is a mark of champions, Manchester City's Premier League title challenge is very much alive.

After losing to Liverpool two weeks ago and then watching yet another late winner from Jurgen Klopp's relentless Reds at Crystal Palace earlier on Saturday, City's task against Chelsea was straightforward: don't give the leaders any more reason to believe.

Pep Guardiola's message before the game was simple, too, as the task of hauling in Liverpool was laid bare: "We have two options – give up or don't give up." Against Chelsea, they flirted with the former before choosing the latter.

Quite what the message to Benjamin Mendy was is another matter, though, and one that could have deeper implications when the title race enters its more decisive months.

Chelsea, of course, came to Etihad Stadium in buoyant mood - quite the contrast to the way they left it last season after a 6-0 humiliation of a kind rarely experienced, certainly since Roman Abramovich laid down roots in London. But this is a different Chelsea: a team playing with few expectations, bursting with confidence and chasing an eighth away win in a row in all competitions for the first time.

More to the point, there was a plan: get after Mendy. Not included against Liverpool for "tactical reasons", Mendy was part of the Chelsea blueprint from the off. Willian attacked relentlessly down the right and N'Golo Kante often joined him. With Raheem Sterling unwilling to track back, Rodri was dragged to the left to provide cover.

That was how Chelsea struck.

Mateo Kovacic played a one-two with Jorginho on halfway, and Kante set off, a diminutive whirlwind surging through the middle of the sky blue shirts onto the Kovacic pass. Rodri, out of position, did not track him; Fernandinho, emergency centre-back again, could not. Kante finished well under pressure from Mendy, who had belatedly realised the danger. It was Chelsea's second and final shot on target.

Chelsea deserved their lead. Beating City requires a careful plan and the hope of an off-day from Guardiola's men and, boy, they had that in the first half-hour. Kante has not been transformed by Frank Lampard - nobody should forget how Maurizio Sarri was often pilloried for playing the France star further forward - but he has embraced this idea of unleashing the former Leicester City man. In terms of average positions, Kante ended the first half the furthest forward of any Chelsea player. He was a weapon deployed with astute precision.

City, meanwhile, were alarmingly poor. Whatever the end result, Guardiola teams can normally be guaranteed to have more possession and run that little bit harder than their opponents. After 45 minutes, they had had 45 per cent of the ball and been outsprinted 56-50.

And yet, they were winning.

Kevin De Bruyne was wayward with his early passing but it soon became clear that, if it was going to happen for City, it would happen through him. It duly did 29 minutes in, De Bruyne dummying Jorginho and finding the net via the well-placed studs of Kurt Zouma, all after Fernandinho waded back into more comfortable midfield waters to steal possession.

For all their own problems at left-back, City identified the same weakness in Chelsea, a team who, exciting as they are, have kept only three clean sheets in the league under Lampard. Emerson Palmieri was tasked with dealing with Riyad Mahrez and simply never managed it. When he asked for help from Kovacic, they were equally obliging in allowing Mahrez to cut into the box on his left foot and finish in supreme style.

Mahrez was the main threat after the break, a clever corner giving Joao Cancelo a chance to score before a brilliant Kepa Arrizabalaga save denied him a second goal of his own. He would have had a late assist for Sterling but for a correct VAR intervention for offside.

A Chelsea comeback never really looked on and City had control once Ilkay Gundogan was introduced, even if they ended with the lowest possession figure, 46.7 per cent, that Guardiola has seen in 381 league matches in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

They are back into third, nine points behind Liverpool, with a slight hop in their step if not quite a spring. Never mind the gap, as David Silva said on Friday; City have overturned them before.

But there is a nagging doubt about Mendy, about how he impacts the team as a whole and whether he is worth the gamble, that is more difficult to ignore.

Related items

  • Dybala was 'close to leaving' Juventus amid Man Utd, Tottenham links Dybala was 'close to leaving' Juventus amid Man Utd, Tottenham links

    Paulo Dybala admitted he was close to leaving Juventus in the close season and the star attacker said his future was in the Serie A champions' hands.

    Dybala was linked with a move to Manchester United and Tottenham, but ended up staying in Turin.

    The Argentina international has impressed this season, scoring 11 goals in 26 games, but admitted he almost left Juventus.

    "I was close to leaving. That was in the club's thinking, I knew. Until the last minute, we were waiting," Dybala told The Guardian.

    "I have two years left on my contract. That's not a short time but it's not a long one either. We'll see what plans Juventus have, if they think I might leave in the next market or if they want me to stay.

    "That's a decision for the club to make. It's hard to know because things change in a second.

    "But I'm here, at a club that has treated me well. I'm happy, comfortable. [Maurizio] Sarri's arrival has helped. He wanted me to stay, which gave me strength when we didn't know what would happen. I knew he could teach me, help me bring out the best in myself."

    Dybala has been at Juve since 2015, when he arrived after three seasons in Italy with Palermo.

    Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini had labelled Dybala the new Sergio Aguero when the attacker signed, but the 26-year-old said he had no interest in comparisons.

    "If you believe that, it weighs on you, but I always said I didn't want to be the new anything, I want people to say my goals, my moves, are 'like Dybala', not anyone else," Dybala said.

    "[Lionel] Messi, [Omar] Sivori, and Aguero won incredible things. I wanted to win my things, not theirs.

    "There was criticism because it was €8million for a 17-year-old, their highest transfer ever. I left for €40m and when I got here, the first thing they asked was about the fee. You think about the prices paid now."

  • Mourinho unhappy with timing of Premier League break for Spurs Mourinho unhappy with timing of Premier League break for Spurs

    Jose Mourinho is unhappy with the timing of the upcoming break in the Premier League, saying it came "in the wrong moment" for Tottenham.

    Spurs face Southampton in the FA Cup on Saturday before hosting Manchester City on February 2, and they will have two weeks without a game after taking on the champions.

    However, they return to action with a trip to Aston Villa on February 16 and then host RB Leipzig in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie three days later.

    That turnaround has left Spurs head coach Mourinho unhappy about the timing of the break.

    "It is what it is. I'm not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment," he told UK media.

    "The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don't have the break.

    "We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig] two days later. So we don't really care about the break, honestly."

    Tottenham's break could be shortened if a replay is required to settle their FA Cup tie against Southampton.

    However, Mourinho is unfazed, saying: "If we have to play Southampton in a second match it means we are still alive in the competition and it is better than losing.

    "If we can choose a result, the one we are going to try to get is of course to win the match, if we get a draw we are still alive. To play at home in the second match is better than to lose."

  • Van Dijk: Liverpool don't feel unbeatable Van Dijk: Liverpool don't feel unbeatable

    Virgil van Dijk insisted Liverpool did not feel unbeatable despite their incredible run in the Premier League.

    Liverpool secured their 22nd win in 23 league games this season by edging Wolves 2-1 in a tight contest on Thursday.

    But Van Dijk warned his side there was still work to do despite their 16-point advantage atop the table.

    "You never feel unbeatable – it is not a feeling that we have," the star centre-back told UK media.

    "Anything can happen. There were moments against Wolves when things could have been different.

    "They could have scored a second. We always feel we have to keep working hard.

    "We just try to keep improving. Things are going good at the moment and everyone is in a good situation."

    Van Dijk is enjoying another stellar campaign for Liverpool, with his partnership alongside Joe Gomez in the centre of defence a key.

    Gomez was involved in an altercation with England team-mate Raheem Sterling in November and Van Dijk said he spoke to the 22-year-old to offer his support.

    "Of course I talked with Joe and tried to help," Van Dijk said.

    "That incident wasn't his fault. I spoke to him about it at the time and he came through that.

    "I've been so impressed by Joe. We all saw last season, before he got injured, how good he is and how good he can be.

    "He's someone I get on very well with — on and off the pitch. That helps, of course."

    Liverpool visit Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.