Chelsea ended Manchester City’s 100% win record at the Etihad Stadium this Premier League season with a super Ivanovic strike and master-class in tactical management by Jose Mourinho.
The Citizens, who have not failed to score at home for four years, were undone by Chelsea’s high pressing game as the creativity of Yaya Toure and David Silva was conspicuous by its absence. Chelsea, meanwhile, should have scored more, hitting the woodwork on three separate occasions too.
It means the Blues are now level on points with Manchester City, as both trail Arsenal by two points.
It was a vital win for the away side. Apart from putting out a signal of intent, Chelsea would have fallen eight points behind the table toppers Arsenal had they lost this evening.
And that reflected highly in Chelsea’s play. Bar a fantastic opening by Manchester City, where Yaya Toure was inches from connecting onto the end of a fantastic Kolarov cross, Chelsea stifled Manchester City, countered effectively and offered significant attacking prowess, namely through Hazard’s creativity and Willian and Ramires’ engine.
It was the latter who had Chelsea’s first real chance, when Chelsea had four men to one City defender, but Willian’s decision-making was questionable as Eto’o was in a better goal-scoring opportunity than Ramires.
The next attack proved crucial, however. A weak Ramires shot was blocked by Yaya Toure, but the rebound found Ivanovic, who rifled home his first left-footed goal for Chelsea.
Chelsea continued to dominate in the second period. Matic found space to attack and unleashed a left-foot drive, which Hart could only watch hit the post.
Cahill was resolute with every dangerous cross in, and nearly scored another for Chelsea at the other end, seeing his downward header hit the woodwork.
Then came Oscar, Mikel and Ba to continue to stifle Manchester City. Silva and Jovetic came close late on, but Mourinho, as always, was victorious.
All eyes were on Mourinho to see if he would park the bus and show himself a hypocrite after criticising West Ham for their defensive solidity in the 0-0 draw on Wednesday. In truth, everyone was expecting Mourinho to adopt a more defensive approach given Manchester City have the power to strike four or more against opponents, as Arsenal (6-3), Tottenham (6-0) and Manchester United (4-1).
But what we saw was an organised and disciplined line-up, and definitely not one set out to fully defend. Mourinho knew all too well that parking the bus would have played into Manchester City’s hands, giving them plenty of the ball to weave in and out of defenders and score many past the hapless Chelsea, not to mention a City win would have given them a six point advantage over the Blues.
Therefore, what followed was astonishingly high pressing: Ivanovic was, on paper, the team’s right-back, but acknowledging David Silva’s inability to track back, the Serbian was often deployed as a right-winger, and it was no surprise to see him so high up the field when he scored the game’s only goal. Silva, his marker, was nowhere to be seen.
Chelsea’s play heavily focused down the right. Hazard, playing on Chelsea’s left, perhaps may have drafted more City defenders to Chelsea’s left, but it was often the decoy, as Kolarov’s inclination to often attack heavily meant Ramires and Ivanovic paired up continuously up and down that flank, showing their attacking prowess but also enormous defensive contributions.
Demichelis may have a lot of experience under his belt, but not in the Premier League, not in midfield and certainly not against Mourinho’s Chelsea. The Argentinian was often caught out, offering no security to Kompany who himself was frustrated at the unpredictability of Nastasic. When Yaya Toure came back to help, Matic was superbly efficient in breaking up play and nearly doubled Chelsea’s lead.
It was an incredibly compact midfield; as the game wore on and with the introductions of Mikel and Oscar, we saw Mourinho opt to stifle the passing fluidity of Manchester City. There was controlled build-up, a fast change of pace, unbelievably delicate foot-work by Hazard and unrelenting energy. It was a Mourinho spectacular.
Man of the Match
GARY CAHILL: The Barclays Man of the Match Award was given to Nemanja Matic, and it his hard to argue with the shift he put in in his first Chelsea start, especially nullifying the threat of Silva and Toure.
But where Manchester City did penetrate the back-line, Cahill was always resolute. It was no surprise Negredo was substituted before the hour-mark; the Beast could not get past Cahill, who stood firm at every cross, pass and heroically threw himself in front of shots. It is hard to call a 28-year-old “the new John Terry”, but it is certainly clear he has learnt well from Chelsea’s captain, as both are forming a formidable partnership. 9/10
Mourinho was proud of his players: “Tactically and mentally I think it was fantastic. Today was special. We love the big games. When you love it maybe you feel extra-motivated. We defended very well and were very compact. The victory was only possible because Petr made a couple of fantastic saves, it was only possible because the defensive players played so well, it was only possible because the midfield players worked so hard, and it was only possible because the attacking players were giving a great contribution.”
Pelligrini was confident this was only a small set-back: “We lost against a good team that played very well. It was a very close game and they had the luck to win it. For Chelsea it was a decisive game but it wasn’t for our team. We could have been six points ahead. They scored a very beautiful goal into the corner but before that we had clear chances to score.”