We are in for a masterclass of offensive football on Monday when Chelsea travel to the Etihad stadium to attack Manchester City. No sitting back or parking the bus, no defensive strategy in the hope of being the first team to win a Premier League point at Fortress Etihad this season. Ambitious Chelsea will go for it.
At least, that is the conclusion after Jose Mourinho called West Ham’s football “19th century,” as the Hammers’ stubborn rearguard display at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday saw them leave with a valuable point after a goal-less and soul-less draw. Sam Allardyce could only laugh at Mourinho’s criticism of his team: “Ten defenders in the box, defenders not putting a foot outside the box . . . they played with five defenders and had more goalkeepers than defenders.”
West Ham had lost seven of their previous nine games. Allardyce was not going to tell his team to go forward at every opportunity and whatever your opinion of it, defensive football is not against the law. Opponents have to find a way to beat it and Chelsea had 39 attempts at goal, the highest total in 10 years for a team failing to score.
Maybe Mourinho should have looked at how his side could dominate a game to such an extent (West Ham had one shot) yet fail to win. Rather than blame West Ham’s tactics he should look at Chelsea’s inability to score against a team battling relegation.
Mourinho has, presumably, forgotten what he said after Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Dec. 23: “I think boring is a team who plays at home and cannot score a goal. Because you go to your stadium and fill your stadium in weather like we had last Monday to see victories.”
So when Arsenal cannot beat Chelsea it is Arsenal who are boring, but when Chelsea cannot beat West Ham it’s West Ham who are boring. The Special One has a special logic.
If Chelsea can manage a goal-less draw, or any sort of draw, at the Etihad on Monday, it will no doubt be hailed as a tactical masterstroke.
Arsenal had their Invincibles and Manuel Pellegrini’s rampant team look like being the Unstoppables. City’s 5-1 win at Spurs, which extended their unbeaten run to 20 games, saw them go to the top of the Premier League for the first time this season and it will be a surprise if they do not stay there and be crowned champions.
The Blues will not equal Arsenal’s 2004 achievement of winning the title unbeaten, but this City side are set to break goalscoring records that were seemingly unbeatable.
In all competitions, Manchester United’s Busby Babes hold the English record with 143 goals in 1956/57. City’s current total of 115 has come from 37 matches. At the Etihad, City average four goals a game with 72 in 18 matches. They have scored five goals four times, six goals three times and seven goals once.
Last season, champions United broke the 100-goal barrier on April 14. City reached their century in mid-January. When Roberto Mancini’s team won the Premier League in 2011/12, they scored 125 goals in all competitions.
Pellegrini’s Blues are on schedule to overtake that total in February.
When Chelsea scored a Premier League-high 103 goals in 2009/10 it was the first time a century had been passed since 1963, when Tottenham managed 111. To beat Chelsea’s achievement, City need 36 goals from their remaining 15 games.
The all-time top division record of 128 goals, set by Aston Villa in 1930/31, may seem safe.
City have 68 in 23 games, so they need 61 in their final 15 matches which means averaging four goals per game, but in the team’s present form it would be wrong to discount City from just about anything.
The suspicion is that Chelsea will not so much need to park the bus, but put a fleet of them in place at the Etihad against these City slickers.
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WHEN TONY PULIS succeeded Ian Holloway, Crystal Palace were six points adrift at the foot of the Premier League. Relegation seemed an inevitability for a side lacking quality, cohesion, confidence and defensive stability. After 11 games under the former Stoke manager, Palace are 14th with five clean sheets in that time.
Pulis’ Stoke were not easy on the eye, their football pragmatic, a combination of power and passion, favoring route one rather than a more intricate midfield build-up. One statistic on the Welshman’s CV that impressed Palace was that he had never been relegated and despite the team’s poor start, Pulis’ record might still be intact come May.
Slowly but surely Palace have become more organized and defensively sound. When Palace don’t have the ball they track back quickly to close up the space in the middle of the park, forcing teams wide and inviting them to try to break down their shape.
Pulis makes no apologies for the way his teams play. He said: “If I were in charge of Barcelona or Manchester United then I would expect those players to be technically good enough to keep the ball and play it from back to front in every game. If you haven’t got those technically gifted players then you play to the players’ strengths.”
For Palace, who are still only four points above the drop-zone, winning is the ultimate entertainment, and at Selhurst Park there are no complaints about the Pulis way.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.