Manchester City’s equalizer against Chelsea FC in Saturday’s 1-1 Premier League title clash started with an error and ended with one.
The sequence was initiated when the linesman incorrectly judged that Chelsea’s defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic failed to keep the ball inside the touch line. Man City’s goal came about 20 seconds after Bacary Sagna’s resulting throw-in, when Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois tried and failed to punch away a Jesus Navas cross. The ball instead ended up at the feet of Sergio Aguero out wide on the left, whose lashed ball deflected off David Silva and in the net.
Naturally, Courtois’ “mistake” was blamed for the goal; the Telegraph’s match report subheader for example reads “Summit meeting ends in stalemate after Thibaut Courtois error.” But a closer reading of the play reveals not one but four critical defensive errors (not including the linesman’s) that led to City’s equaliser, one that could have ramifications for the title race.
It all begins with Sagna’s throw-in. The City full-back spots Navas’ run in behind Cesar Azpilicueta on the right:
Azpilicueta perfectly tracks Navas and wins possession back. But then Azpilicueta leaves it to Matic to finish the play by clearing the ball, and this is where we get error number one:
Matic is closed down by two players and thus flubs what should have been a routine clearance; the ball bobbles off Sagna’s leg. Now, Navas is allowed to pass back to Sagna, who then passes to Fernandinho sitting deep. His pass to David Silva is then one-touched back over to the flank back to Sagna, and this is where we get error number two, from Azpilicueta:
Here, Azpilicueta attempts to close down Sagna to prevent the pass, but misses. Now Navas is clear in space out wide on the right flank and ahead of the Chelsea back line, who were only two seconds before about to charge up the pitch after Matic’s clearance. Even so, in other circumstances his whipped in cross might have been easily headed out or cleared. Instead, we get error number three:
We can see here how Ivanovic fails to track the English bullet that is James Milner (!), charging in from the left of goal. Now it rests on Courtois to save Chelsea’s graces. Except for the final “error,” and this one might be controversial because it seems the long-armed Belgian keeper was “screened” by Milner at the last crucial second:
That blue blur crosses Courtois’ path at the precise moment he tried to palm the ball away. It bounces over to Aguero, and the rest is history.
There are two ways of looking at this example. The first is to castigate Chelsea’s defence for a series of “should have’s” which may have otherwise prevented the goal. The second is to see the equalizer as the result of a series of broken failsafes, starting with Matic’s failed clearance—in isolation, these errors might not otherwise lead to anything, but in sequence they can be fatal.
In either case, it’s clear that, if we look at the play leading up to the goal, Courtois is only partly to blame, particularly as Chelsea were already banking on their ability to stonewall the City attack for 90 minutes.