- Chelsea go level on points with City, two points behind Arsenal.
- City fail to score for first time at home for almost four years.
With one brilliant swing of his left foot, Branislav Ivanovic condemned ManchesterCity to their first home defeat in the Premier League this season and their first defeat in any competition in twenty-one matches. It was, however, down to the sheer graft and determination that Chelsea emerged from the Etihad with all three points. At no point during this top-of-the-table clash did it look like ManchesterCity were going to dominate proceedings, which speaks volumes for the tireless performances of the men from London. It thus means that Chelsea have thrust themselves right back into the mix in what is fast becoming an exhilarating race for supremacy.
The night began as you might expect. A packed stadium, rapturous atmosphere crackling to the beat of Blue Moon and two sets of players who portrayed such compelling concentration in the tunnel before kick-off. Indeed, several of the biggest matches in this league can sometimes fail to live up to the hype but ManchesterCity and Chelsea played out such a fiercely contested battle that any pre-match predictions became irrelevant. It was a real blood and thunder affair the kind of hardened physicality that has lamentably left the game at the highest levels.
If only the very first few exchanges of play dictated how the match would play out, Pellegrini will be thinking, as a communication breakdown between Gary Cahill and Petr Cech almost led to a calamitous start for Mourinho’s men. As it were, Cahill was outstanding, while Cech was able to amply fend off any attack on his goal with enough efficiency to evaporate any uneasy feelings about his earlier mishap.
Chelsea exerted the kind of pressing and crisp passing that was necessary to play their way round a ManchesterCity who have pulverised teams over and over again at home this season to the point of it appearing sadistic. There was to be no over-powering this tightly organised and remarkably cohesive Chelsea unit though. Matic and Luiz grew an extra lung each to suppress Toure and Silva in midfield, denying the latter the pockets of space he thrives upon to create goal-scoring opportunities. In a way, it can’t be said that City played particularly poorly as they were not allowed to play at all. Mourinho’s pre-match statement was that he had set his team up to “defend when they have the ball and attack when we have it.” On paper, it looked a crudely simplistic hypothesis but utilising it effectively almost gave it a prophetic ring and gave Chelsea licence to exploit City’s defensive uncertainties.
Indeed, when it came to those uncertainties, no player epitomised “being played out of position” more perfectly than Martin Demichelis. Deployed further up, beside Yaya Toure, following an injury to Fernandinho, the 33-year old summer recruit from Atletico Madrid reminded those watching on more than one occasion how much of a liability he can be. He can be quoted as once telling the German media that he longer wanted to play in central midfield for Bayern Munich but Ottmar Hitzfeld’s solution was to drop him out of the team altogether. That may not be beyond the realms of possibility for Pellegrini following tonight’s performance. Beaten more than once by the mesmeric Eden Hazard by the simple drop of a shoulder, he was often left nervously looking over his shoulder to see if Kompany, his captain, was screaming in his direction whilst at other times the blood rushing to his head led to a rash and mistimed tackle, leaving the door wide open for Chelsea to penetrate in behind City’s defensive shield.
The screams of Kompany were no more seismic than when his block from Ramires’ shot fell to Branislav Ivanovic who pounced expertly on the chance, blazing a low shot past Hart. It stemmed from some great attacking industry from Hazard, who sneaked in behind City’s back four to pull back the cross to Ramires and while his shot was subsequently blocked by Kompany, it fell to Chelsea’s right-back and the rest was history. It was no more than they deserved. In fact, the Mourinho’s men should have had more. For the second time, Hazard was allowed to burst into a promising position, only that time his cross went straight through to Samuel Eto’o, who could only blast onto the crossbar. They also created opportunities from neat counter-attacks, Hazard, Willian and Ramires all bursting with intent once they saw the opportunity. Following a City corner, the ball was lofted 50 yards up towards Willian who managed to slip in Ramires but the Brazilian telegraphed his intentions to Joe Hart and he made the save.
One of the great strengths of this Manchester City team is there ability to rack up ludicrous quantities of goals, but tonight, Chelsea became the first team in 62 attempts (since Birmingham City in 2010) to come away from the Etihad with a clean sheet. Gary Cahill and John Terry were organisational generals at the heart of Chelsea’s containment policy in the second-half as City desperately scrambled to gain sustained momentum. It failed. Cahill, in particular, was a shining example of defender very much in the classic thou shall not pass mould. He left Dzeko, Negredo and subsequently Jovetic bereft of ideas.
It was a fascinating match, one that showed Chelsea in full drive, working endlessly to protect, preserve and pounce when they had the chance. The fleeting wonderment of Eden Hazard was a joy to watch, accelerating to zoom past oncoming tackles with consummate ease and showing his ability to use his body to draw fouls from City’s players when Chelsea were in need of re-organisation. A clever player. It was also sheer justification for Mourinho’s acquisition of Nemanja Matic. The ex and now current Chelsea player went toe-to-toe with Yaya Toure and more often than not, beating him at the job. That in itself tells the story of his ability. This match tells the story that ManchesterCity are not the steamrolling behemoth capable of sweeping any team aside. They were sternly put to the task tonight, more so than at any point this season, and have come out the other end with their heads hanging and there title claim in doubt.