City find their feet to win the class war

Manchester City 2 Chelsea 1: Weaknesses in Chelsea armour exposed in significant victory for Hughes' men
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The Independent Online

Mark Hughes suffered a touch of hubris but then why wouldn't he? It came with his declaration that City had been "excellent from start to finish". This wasn't quite true. Around about the time Chelsea scored their early goal Hughes's men seemed in danger of being paralysed.

Still, there was no doubt about it. This was a great and perhaps significant victory. City put aside their troubling mediocrity against teams costing a fraction of their own outlay and not only beat Chelsea but exposed weaknesses, both in their play and their psychology, which a week earlier Arsenal looked extremely unlikely to winkle out even if they had been given 90 hours rather than minutes to do it.

The psychological flaws in the league leaders who had recently been burning up all opposition were increasingly evident in their failure to suppress the uprising of a team which for that little while at the start looked, for all the bustle and pace of Carlos Tevez and Shaun Wright-Phillips, to be operating on a distinctly inferior level.

Yet such an apparent division of class was consumed by a City team with each new frailty demonstrated by their vaunted opponents. Six bookings was an eloquent statement on the indiscipline, and the bemused arrogance, which overtook the champions-elect before the end.

Frank Lampard's hapless attempt at converting a late penalty was so shocking he might have been Doc Holliday fumbling for his six-shooter. When Michael Ballack left the field Chelsea lost the last remnants of their authority.

Beyond any of this though, surely, was the problem which Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has every reason to put at the top of his rescued shopping list for the January transfer window.

There was a time when the following statement would have been immediately classified at Stamford Bridge as the most outrageous of sacrilege. In the wake of this defeat though, and especially in the light of the continued excellence of City's Shay Given, it is merely a simple and disturbing fact. Peter Cech is not only not what he was, he was for most of this hugely important match a clear point of weakness.

He flapped at crosses and his absolute failure to counter Tevez's decisive free-kick was a grievous technical error. One side of the goal was protected by Chelsea's somewhat chaotically assembled defensive wall. The other was Cech's prime responsibility and he never began to meet it.

Understandably, Hughes was happy to dwell on the value of his key signing of Given. He said: "Once we knew there was a possibility we might be able to bring Shay to the club we had to pursue that. I remember the very first save he made for us was an exceptional one and it won us the game. He has continued to do that for us. Top keepers keep you in games when the team is not playing particularly well and allow you to get back into the match. Shay is one of the best."

Not all Hughes's signings carry such unambiguous hallmarks but here there was sufficient evidence of a team of both enough individual ability and cohesion to indeed make a serious challenge for membership of the Champions League next season.

"You need wins like this," said Hughes, "if you are going to believe that you can compete with anybody."

Ancelotti was obliged to reach for the kind of damage control he produced after the other two shocks of an otherwise imperious campaign, defeats at Wigan and Villa Park. "This championship," he declared, "will be a race until the end of the season. Last week we had five points more [than Manchester United.] This week we have only two points but it is important for us to stay at the top of the list. In the best period today we had a lot of control but we missed a penalty. Frank should have scored, no?"

So should Didier Drogba when he was fed a sublime pass by Michael Essien near the end.

In the face of such untypical inefficiencies, City in this mood were bound to prosper. They were served particularly well by the dash of Wright-Phillips and Tevez and the relentless energy of Nigel de Jong. The Dutchman's game is less than beguiling but what it lacks poetically it can compensate for quite remarkably with rousing statements of commitment. That was the requirement against a Chelsea midfield of Lampard, Deco, Ballack and Essien which briefly threatened a complete annexation of City's latest hopes of taking a place among the elite. De Jong produced it with superb application and long before the end City were not only holding their ground but making serious inroads into Chelsea's self-confidence.

They were also provoking evidence of a temperamental failings that have been largely hidden so far this season – and must give the ultimately professional Ancelotti some new concerns. His predecessor but one, Luiz Felipe Scolari, lost the dressing room partly with his tendency to go too quickly public with his worries and Ancelotti is not likely to make the same mistake. However, we can be sure that he will show a less philosophical and amiable front when his players re-assemble this morning.

"I don't want to make too a big reaction," he said, "I want to go forward."

First, though, the inquest, one in which Ancelotti is unlikely to waste too much time on the refereeing of Howard Webb, which he suggested was particularly frustrating in that he is normally a fan of the official. The most relevant point is that Chelsea still had opportunities to win a match in which their opponents were allowed to grow before our eyes. Ballack echoed his coach when he said: "The important thing for us to do is focus on ourselves."

For the next few days this is vital, if not exactly uplifting work.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Given; Richards (Onuoha,69), Toure, Lescott, Bridge (Kompany, 76); Wright-Phillips, De Jong, Barry, Robinho (Zabaleta, 90); Tevez, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Johnson, Santa Cruz, Petrov.

Chelsea: (4-4-2) Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho (Belletti, 63) Terry (Malouda, 88), A.Cole; Essien, Ballack (Mikel,64), Lampard, Deco; Anelka, Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), J. Cole, Zhirkov, Ferreira.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester City: Berry. Chelsea: Terry, Carvalho, Belletti, Ivanovic, Cole, Deco.

Man of the match: Tevez.

Attendance: 47,348.

Capital double: Hughes on the up

Mark Hughes believes his Manchester City side have turned a corner after a week which brought victories against Arsenal and Chelsea and now wants them to continue the winning run against teams outside the Big Four

"We know what it takes to win against the bigger sides," Hughes said. "Once we get the knowledge of how to beat the lesser sides we will be OK.

"We want to make the most of the results this week," he added. "As I have said many times, you cannot have short cuts. At this level, if you don't put in the right level of work you will get beaten."

Defeating Chelsea ended a run of seven draws in the Premier League for City and they go to struggling Bolton on Saturday aiming to close the gap on the Champions League places, having beaten both Chelsea and Arsenal in the league this season and taking a point off Liverpool at Anfield.

"We worked exceptionally hard to get this result because the challenge is there for us from the bigger sides," Hughes said. "At the moment we are making it difficult for them. At some point in the future we want to supersede them. We are on a journey. We are not where we need to be yet but we are getting there quickly."

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