Manchester City, in terrifying form, with their merciless attack approach seeing the side chewing opponents up and spitting them out with a four or five goal deficit.
Chelsea, defensively optimistic, with Jose Mourinho’s Financial Fair Play investigations attempting to rouse Manuel Pellegrini into mind war play before kick-off. The latter refused to be drawn into such trivial battles, preferring to let his football team do the talking instead. A team who’d scored 115 goals in all competitions before the whistle was blown.
Yet a team whose prowess, swagger and unbeaten record came to a crashing halt at the hands of a tactically superior 51 year old Portuguese, who was practically purring in delight at his side’s 1-0 victory.
The win did the impossible: it penetrated the impenetrable fortress Etihad. A stadium that had put to sword so many sides that came before Chelsea and left with their tails between their legs after consistently heavy defeats. The bubble had burst. It was Chelsea who emerged deservedly triumphant.
City started the brightest and had spells of possession, with Yaya Toure in powerhouse mode, storming forward at every given opportunity.
Chances went begging for the Ivorian and for David Silva, with Aleksandar Kolorov tearing down the flanks assisting to both. But the home side’s attacks left gaping holes at the back, which Eden Hazard was only too delighted to dance into. The Belgian posed a constant threat and his pace and trickery proved too much for Martin Demichelis to deal with.
It was somewhat ironic then, with all the talk before the match about Mourinho’s habit of ‘parking the bus’ that City’s inability to do so to a certain extent in midfield would prove to be their undoing.
Demichelis, in for Fernandinho, who had taken a knock during a training session at the weekend, was far too often left trailing in Hazard’s wake. His plight made no easier by Toure’s inability/refusal* (delete as appropriate) to defend.
After another counter attack from Chelsea, a four on one move where Willian set up Ramires, only for the Brazilian’s shot to be parried by Joe Hart, a goal for the visitors seemed inevitable.
It came in the unlikely form of Branislav Ivanovic, whose spectacular half volley was drilled sublimely into the bottom left of the net. It was no less than the visitors had deserved: City looked out of sorts and short on ideas.
Alvaro Negredo, the stocky striker so reliable for the Blues this season, gave the ball away a number of times throughout the first half. Matija Nastatic may only be a 20 year-old defender, but at times looked much younger, panicked and inexperienced.
But it was City’s soft centre and Pellegrini’s lack of substitutions to attempt to correct the blindingly obvious problem that was to be their downfall.
There was no let up during the second half: Nemanja Matic and David Luiz provided the perfect foil to enable Hazard, William and Ramires to push forward to expose the home side’s defensive frailties. Chelsea hit the woodwork three times in total such was their superiority: Gary Cahill, Matic and Samuel Eto’o all finding their efforts rebound.
Pellegrini’s men did have their chances. Once again it was Silva whose chance went begging.
Edin Dzeko, who invariably needs four chances before he scores anyway, was wasteful in front of goal. Substitute Stevan Jovetic almost grabbed an equaliser in injury time but Petr Cech palmed his shot over the bar. The chances were there, the precision was not.
The result is a huge three points to Mourinho’s men. City, still in all four competitions, will need to keep their heads up and push on to avoid taking a psychological sucker punch. But it will hurt, there’s no doubt about that.
City may have sorely missed Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and Samir Nasri, but at least two of those three will be back in time to play major parts in the Premier League title race, which is more open than ever.
Aguero and Fernandinho’s importance has been underlined after tonight’s performance and both will be relishing the opportunity to return and play a vital part.
But the headlines will belong to Mourinho – and isn’t that just the way he likes it.
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