Man City 0 Chelsea 1
The only bus Chelsea parked last night was the team coach outside the Etihad Stadium.
A first-half strike from defender Branislav Ivanovic put the brakes on the widespread view Manchester City are set to cruise the Premier League title in the second half of the season as Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho shrewdly masterminded the first league defeat for Manuel Pellegrini’s side at home this season.
Mourinho was naturally delighted with the win. “We played fantastic against a fantastic team and beat the best team in the Premier League twice. This was very important,” he said.
There were plenty of subplots in this one as there seems to be any time a Mourinho side plays. The apparent distaste between two former Real Madrid managers and the old big spenders against one of the new wave of cash-laden clubs were just two.
But the big one that hung over the game was the question would the Chelsea manager opt for a defensive approach against the Premier League’s big scorers after so heavily criticising West Ham for the same tactic less than a week ago.
Mourinho’s starting line-up suggested he could look to replicate the “19th-century football” West Ham employed last week to earn a 0-0, with defender David Luiz joining Nemanja Matic as a holding midfielder and the attacking Oscar watching from the bench.
But it was not a defensive approach, far from it. There was still too much attacking brilliance in the side for it to be, particularly Eden Hazard and Willian, and not enough defensive-minded players in City’s line-up not to leave opportunities for Chelsea.
Alvaro Negredo was the first to threaten for the home side, however, when he flashed an effort over before Yaya Toure curled one off target. The free-scoring midfielder then turned creator for David Silva but the Spaniard could not find the target as he shuffled his feet to get in a timid effort that crept wide.
It was City’s attacking play along with the sloppiness of the out of position Demichelis in midfield that set up the best chance of the first half.
The Argentina international gave the ball away in midfield and it allowed Willian to race through, with the Brazilian sliding the ball to Ramires only for Hart to make a comfortable save.
The goalkeeper could not be blamed for Chelsea’s goal as following Vincent Kompany’s block on Ramires’ strike, Ivanovic followed up to send a darting shot into the bottom corner.
Now City were under pressure to ensure their scoring run at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League that goes back to November 2010 continued.
The game was going away from them, however, as they failed to get a grip in midfield.
Hazard created the chance for Chelsea to double their lead before the break but Samuel Eto’o crashed his effort off the bar.
Birmingham City were the last team to leave this ground with a clean sheet in the Premier League and Toure came close to ensuring another team in blue did not after the break but his strike went just wide before Matic rattled the bar at the other end.
All the talk beforehand was about defensive choices for Chelsea, but it was the midfield in which they were winning this game. Demichelis looked off the pace while Matic controlled the game for Mourinho’s side.
City have often got through games with their attacking prowess but something was lacking.
Sergio Aguero’s absences this season through injury have not really caused problems for City owing to Negredo and Edin Dzeko’s goals but when the home side did get the ball past Chelsea’s midfield, the ageing John Terry was less troubled dealing with two bigger forwards than he may have been by a more dynamic striker like the Argentina international.
Pellegrini looked bereft of a plan B as his attack at all costs policy refused to pay dividends. Bringing Stevan Jovetic on for Negredo only seemed to replace like for like and did not solve the conundrum in midfield.
Chelsea still threatened at the other end and Gary Cahill hit the woodwork from Willian’s corner.
There were chances for Pellegrini’s side late on but Petr Cech proved capable, particularly with a stunning save from David Silva’s whipped free-kick that looked destined for the top corner with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Silva then flashed a low effort wide as the threat mounted and Jovetic forced Cech into another save in stoppage time. But an equaliser never materialised and Arsenal held on to their place at the top of the Premier League as Mourinho and Chelsea closed in.
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