James Lawton: Luiz's creative instinct exposes the poverty of City's ambition
A draw seems the height of City's ambition whenever they face a team of serious quality
Monday 21 March 2011
There's not a lot more you can say about Robert Mancini's campaign plan, for or against, except that it seems increasingly unlikely that he will survive it.
One absurdity was placed upon another when, in the final stages, Mario Balotelli – earlier considered too unstable to start one of the most important games of the season – and Adam Johnson were sent on. It was a late and desperate effort to rescue a draw, which is almost invariably the height of City's ambition whenever they go against a team of serious quality.
This kind of thinking tends to catch up with you and if anyone has arrived in English football with a belief that his destiny is to ride over, legally or not, anyone less than convinced about his own power and nerve, it is surely Chelsea's sensational signing David Luiz.
Luiz overwhelmed City's tank trap defence when he mesmerised full-back Micah Richards into conceding a free kick, then quite superbly headed past Joe Hart when Didier Drogba sent in one of his set-piece mortar-shell crosses.
For anyone who hasn't been closely following the extrovert young Brazilian's dramatic progress these last few weeks, it may be necessary to say he is a designated defender.
However, Luiz is more than that. He is a force of nature, as unscrupulous in some of his play as he is often superbly inventive. He has now scored two goals to break both of the Manchester clubs and it was hard to know who watched his latest triumph more closely, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who paid out $50m for Fernando Torres and is still to celebrate one of the Spaniard's classic goals on behalf of his new club – or the frustrated Torres.
Torres looked sorrowful enough when he was withdrawn by manager Carlo Ancelotti in favour of Drogba and Nicolas Anelka and Abramovich's expression was at the very least intriguing, both when his mega-signing trooped off the field with a now familiar desolation and then when his team-mates got down to the business of breaking down City.
Chelsea were still some way from the kind of eviscerating form which marked them out at the end of last season and the start of this one but when Drogba and Anelka arrived they did begin to look eminently capable of putting City to the sword. That was hardly the case before Ancelotti transformed his team.
Where it leaves the Chelsea manager is one of the season's most riveting human dramas. Undermined repeatedly, he remains arguably the Premier League's most viable Champions League challenger – especially when you consider the mayhem in the Manchester United medical room – and there is no doubt the arrival of Luiz has created a new and sparkling sense of well-being at Stamford Bridge.
A tired, apparently played out team may just be sparking back into life. If nothing else it could provoke a fresh hand-to-hand debate about the way the world's second-richest football treats the hired help, how brilliantly they have performed in previous employment.
For Mancini, the end of a nightmarish week – in which his team were expelled from the Europa League and Balotelli had exceeded some of the worst fears about his chronic lack of discipline – surely brings still more appraisal of a policy which set a Champions League qualifying place as the apex of ambition.
Many fans say they are happy with such modest parameters, however much money has been spent and despite how many times the team makes a parody of the kind of football you might expect from the wealthiest club in the game. Perhaps a lot depends on what exactly moves your soul.
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