It is the game of the weekend at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday and Chelsea have found their rhythm quicker than any of the other leading teams. But it might just be this match which wakes up Manchester City.
Against Bayern Munich on Wednesday I felt that at no point did City really go for it. That is difficult away to Bayern but City are set up to attack teams, whenever they play. They throw everything forward and it is very hard to stop.
City have a squad as good as any in Europe. They have assembled a group of big-game players. It is time for all of them to start performing. Usually with the really big names, it is this kind of game that prompts them into action, they don’t need motivating. Sometimes it can be harder for them to get motivated for the lower-profile games, as the defeat to Stoke showed.
Jose Mourinho knows as well as any manager in the Premier League the pitfalls of the less glamorous matches for title challengers. He knows that if you are not on your game, right from the word go, then you can be punished. In John Terry and, to a lesser extent, Cesc Fabregas, he has two players who understand that and know the league as well as anyone. That kind of experience is invaluable over a season.
Chelsea 1 Schalke 1 player ratings
Chelsea 1 Schalke 1 player ratings
1/22 Thibaut Courtois
Hardly worked until forced to make an impressive stop from Kevin-Prince Boateng before the break. Could do nothing with Klaas Jan Huntelaar's leveller. 6/10
2/22 Branislav Ivanovic
As attacking as ever from full-back, provided a great ball in to Cesc Fabregas. 7.
3/22 Gary Cahill
Fairly comfortable night but Julian Draxler skipped by with ease on one first-half occasion. 6.
4/22 John Terry
Reliable as ever on his 600th start for Chelsea. Booked for kicking the ball away - and into the Schalke goal. Late effort cleared from under the crossbar. 7
5/22 Filipe Luis
Maiden start in a Chelsea shirt and an assured performance from the Brazil left-back. 6.
6/22 Nemanja Matic
Usually rock-solid but was caught on the back foot more than once by the impressive Draxler. 6.
The Brazilian's inclusion allowed a more advanced role for Fabregas. Usual workmanlike display. 6.
Played in a wider role to allow Fabregas to operate through the middle. Started well but not enough influence. 5.
9/22 Cesc Fabregas
Opened his Chelsea account in the early stages but could have been booked for a challenge in the build-up. Fluffed his lines when presented with a great second chance and caught out for Schalke's equaliser. 7.
10/22 Eden Hazard
Pulled the strings once more and can orchestrate many more successful nights for Chelsea on this display. Faded slightly in the second half but had two good chances to win it late on. 8
11/22 Didier Drogba
His last kick in Europe for Chelsea before tonight was the winning penalty in their final win over Bayern Munich, tonight the experienced striker could not find the back of the net but came very close on the hour. 6
12/22 Ralf Fahrmann
Made a bizarre attempt to clear Willian’s cross with his feet, and looked uncomfortable dealing with crosses. 5
13/22 Marco Hoger
Pinned back by Willian in the first-half, the right-back grew into the game after the interval and looked more assured. Booked for time wasting late on. 6
14/22 Kaan Ayman
Dealt well with Drogba, and was largely untroubled. 6
15/22 Roman Neustadter
Solid performance, and cleared Remy’s shot off the line in the closing stages. 6
16/22 Christian Fuchs
Made important first-half tackle to deny Drogba, and got forward more in the second half. 5
17/22 Kevin-Prince Boateng
Had a few decent efforts from range, as the former Portsmouth midfielder did his best to make things happen from unfamiliar deeper role. Booked for clumsy foul on Hazard. 6
18/22 Dennis Aogo
Usually a full-back, the German international struggled with Fabregas’s movement in central midfield. 5
19/22 Sidney Sam
Disappointing – thrashed at a few shots and over-elaborated when in decent positions. 5
20/22 Max Meyer
Impressed with his energy and willingness to take players on. 6
21/22 Julian Draxler
Schalke’s best player by a distance – looked a cut above with his pace and direct running. Unfortunate not to score in the first-half at the end of a powerful burst, and set up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s goal following a similar run. 7
22/22 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
Took his goal superbly having endured a frustrating evening up until that point. Didn’t do much besides scoring, but that’s always been the Dutchman’s game. Booked for dissent in the first-half. 6
When Chelsea beat City at the Etihad in February, it was regarded by many as a tactical masterclass by Mourinho, so you can only imagine he will do the same again on Sunday. It would mean Mourinho plays two in front of the back four as he did in February when it was Nemanja Matic and David Luiz’s job to protect the defence. Chelsea always have pace on the counter.
Their full-backs get forward too, and in February it was Branislav Ivanovic who scored the goal that won the game. They don’t go forward recklessly, they pick their moments and generally speaking when Chelsea have the ball on the right, Ivanovic is already getting down the touchline. Willian carries the ball forward. Eden Hazard provides that speed on the counter-attack. Now they have Diego Costa, who looks like he has been in the Premier League for years.
The one thing different this season about Chelsea is that they are conceding more goals, as well as scoring more. Last season they were more likely to score a goal and shut the game down. Now, with Fabregas in the side, they have a player who has played for two clubs previously for whom the philosophy was always to attack.
You are never going to change the instincts of a player like Fabregas. He is always looking forward. He adds that little bit of magic to the side and he is great for the supporters to watch. In my view he has been the signing of the season.
Chelsea and City both play again in the Capital One Cup next week. For clubs at that level there is no reason not to try to win everything. They have the squads to do it. The trouble is, there are never enough trophies to go around for every club that believes it should be winning one.
Neil Adams has thrived by managing relegation well
Two of the three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season sacked their managers on Thursday and the last man standing from that trio is Neil Adams, whose Norwich City team are second in the Championship and going nicely. I am not sure he has got the full credit that he deserves for such a good start to the season when you compare it to those at Fulham and Cardiff City.
There were the usual concerns about his lack of experience when he took the job. Not every manager can offer experience. It is no guarantee of success. Even the best had to start somewhere. Adams has managed relegation well. He has kept many of his good players, like Nathan Redmond and Wes Hoolahan. Norwich have lost Leroy Fer and Robert Snodgrass but have coped with it. Adams has them playing with a bit of freedom.
When you take over a club that is struggling, you have to wipe the slate clean and give everyone a chance. In turn, Norwich have also shown faith in Adams and they have benefited from that.
The Championship is a tough league and when you are in a slump it is hard to arrest it. Equally, when you are on a roll you can get up that league quickly. I joined Portsmouth halfway through 2002-03, when we finished top of the then First Division, and we won games easily. We had a good side, with Paul Merson, Steve Stone, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Svetoslav Todorov and Matty Taylor. The team gained momentum over the season and finished with 98 points.
For teams relegated from the Premier League, one of the problems is that the fans think it will be easy in the Championship. But the matches come thick and fast, you’re quickly going from recovery and into match preparation and there is not that much time to think.
It is interesting that the three managers promoted from the Championship last season – Nigel Pearson, Sean Dyche and Harry Redknapp – were all English, so too the beaten play-off finalist, Steve McClaren. You do need to know that league to be a success in it. Like a lot of managers in work, and out of work, I spend as much of my time watching games in the Championship and League One and Two. You have to have that spectrum of knowledge.
At Fulham, they have thrown a lot of the kids in. No bad thing in itself but you need the experience alongside them, players like Scott Parker, to guide them through. The mistake is to throw them all in at once without enough help from senior players to get them through their first steps. Some managers do that to try to prove a point to their chairman that the academy kids are not good enough. It is not the way to introduce young players to first-team football.
For all the problems Fulham and Cardiff have had, in a 46-game season there are plenty of opportunities to turn things around. Their bad starts do not mean it is over in terms of promotion in May.Reuse content