Sensing an opportunity for cross promotion, NBC broadcast today’s Premier League action from Glendale, Arizona, the site of the Super Bowl. Though he was on site in London, broadcaster Arlo White made sure to explain to the American audience that, without any playoffs, the forthcoming Chelsea-Manchester City match was as close to the Super Bowl the Premier League would see this season. With the game expected to draw 650 million viewers worldwide—it’s estimated that last year’s Super Bowl had 160 million viewers—maybe that comparison was apt.
But as has unfortunately become routine in big Premier League matches, the game didn’t quite live up to its billing. With a five point lead after more than half the season, Chelsea was probably always going to execute a defensive game plan, even home at Stamford Bridge—they are managed by the pragmatic José Mourinho, after all—and that decision was assured when Cesc Fabregas was ruled out with an injury and Diego Costa banned three games for stamping a player.
Despite the gameplan, Chelsea did look the more lively side early, or at least equally as adventurous as City. But the game settled down into a predictable pattern: Chelsea defensive but not in a shell, David Silva and Jesus Navas probing but not getting very far. The first goal, scored by Chelsea in the 40th minute, was a surprise. Branislav Ivanovic found Eden Hazard deep with a nice ball, and Hazard’s low cross was served up to Loic Remy, Costa’s replacement, with only an empty goal in front of him. It was Chelsea’s third, and final, shot of the match. 1-0.
Just three minutes later City found an equalizer. Thibaut Courtois failed to properly deal with a cross, letting City remain in possession while he was out of position. Sergio Aguero’s shot from outside the box was headed wide, but David Silva managed to get a toe on it to redirect it past Ivanovic on the post. The teams went into halftime tied 1-1.
And that was mostly it for the match. Fernandinho’s awkward, failed attempt at a good shot in the 56th minute took an odd bounce and forced Courtois to tip over, and in the final ten minutes of the game City was able to pump a bunch of crosses into the box, but none of them found an open target. Frank Lampard—playing his first game for City at Stamford Bridge after 14 years with Chelsea—was introduced to polite applause in the 76th minute, but there was no fireworks from him. After 94 minutes the game ended where it began: Chelsea five points up on Manchester City.
Before the weekend’s games, Bloomberg Sports’ projections had Chelsea winning the league 79% of the time, while soccer writer Michael Caley’s system shows just how tough of a row City had to hoe, even if they had won the game. Overcoming a five point deficit in 15 matches might not seem impossible—and it’s clearly not—but City will basically have to win out to do so. Of Chelsea’s four remaining matches against top seven teams, only Arsenal is away. Meanwhile, City has to play Manchester United, Tottenham, and Liverpool away. Any loss means they’ll be counting on Chelsea to falter three times, a very unlikely scenario.
Photo via Clive Mason/Getty