Manchester City 0 Chelsea 1 match report: Off-colour City sent reeling by masterful Jose Mourinho
The away side should have won by a greater margin
The plan was perfect, its execution flawless and, to amend a phrase from the man who orchestrated victory for Chelsea, this was the ultimate in 21st century football.
Jose Mourinho has pulled off a few tricks in his career; he has bullied and cajoled, intimidated and bluffed but when the pressure is on he really does know how to win a big game. Tonight, his Chelsea team beat the side who are on course to be the most prolific goalscorers in Premier League history and in doing so prevented them from scoring in a league game for the first time since November 2010.
What seemed inevitable 24 hours ago, that City always find a way through, is now no longer the certainty it once was after Branislav Ivanovic’s goal won the game for Chelsea. To be fair to Mourinho he has been defying the odds for years: winning titles against Manchester United and Barcelona, eliminating the latter in the Champions League. Victories like these are the kind of wins he has secured time and again with the customary ingenuity.
There are some who will always point to the resources at Mourinho’s disposal and say that he should be able to accomplish these kind of results, but even so it takes a certain kind of football mind to be able to adapt the way he did tonight. And it opens up a whole new front in the title race which is now led by Arsenal, two points in front of City and Chelsea who are divided by goal difference into second and third respectively.
It was the kind of night that did not require one of those unorthodox post-match press conferences from Mourinho to make it a memorable occasion, but he laid one on anyway. He claimed that Billy McCulloch, the long-serving masseur, had given the team-talk “all in Scottish, I didn’t understand a word”. He also advanced the theory that if it was a three-horse race then Chelsea were a “little horse, that needs to drink milk and learn how to jump”.
He is not to everyone’s tastes. But there can be no arguing with the quality of the performance from the winning side last night.
Yes, Chelsea had to hang on at the end at times, but that was inevitable although the figurative bus was never truly parked. Not when City only mustered their first meaningful shot on target with a David Silva free-kick that Petr Cech pushed away with 17 minutes of the game remaining. Instead, a marvellous performance in midfield from David Luiz and Nemanja Matic kept City at arm’s length for all but the closing stages.
In defence, Gary Cahill was another contender for Chelsea’s best player. That was just edged by Eden Hazard who tormented City in the first half and the start of the second and was a key figure in the goal Ivanovic scored just after the half hour. Quite simply, City’s big players did not get close to the levels that those in the blue shirts of Chelsea attained.
The away fans kept in the ground after the game sang “Boring, boring Chelsea”, a nod to the stick Mourinho had taken from the home fans at the start of the game about his “s**** football”. By the end, there was no denying that Mourinho won the night all hands down. He got it right from start to finish: from the pre-match goading and on through the team selection and the tactics. He approaches the FA Cup tie with City a week on Saturday having beaten them twice in the league.
As for Manuel Pellegrini there was an element of denial about his refusal to accept his side’s ineffectiveness in midfield. An injury to Fernandinho in training on Sunday that meant the City manager chose to improvise with his old Argentinian warhorse Martin Demichelis in the centre.
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Unfortunately for Demichelis, at times in the first half he was the proverbial shire horse sent out on the gallops with the chasers. The margins are so fine in these kind of games, when every shortcoming is exposed ruthlessly and every match-up finely balanced. He was found wanting. Chelsea absorbed all the City attacks they could – which was by no means all of them - and then hit City hard on the counter.
It was in those moments that Demichelis was buffeted. Not least when he was sold short by a pass on 27 minutes and having just beaten Willian to the ball was then forced to turn and chase the Brazilian after it was then played in behind him. Matic’s pass sent Chelsea forward – four attackers on one defender - and Willian’s lay-off left to Ramires should really have been converted.
Instead, Ramires’ shot was saved by Joe Hart and the thought occurred that another chance that good might not come Chelsea’s way for a while. Mourinho jabbed the air in frustration. Yet, as it turned out, Chelsea created three more by half-time and scored from one of them.
Mourinho picked a 4-2-3-1 formation with Luiz and Matic the big physical midfield presence to protect the back four from the running of Yaya Toure. The golden boy at No 10, Oscar, was stood down for the night in favour of the energy of Ramires, who joined Willian and Hazard in the attacking three. Hazard is the one man who gets some free rein from Mourinho – although not too much – and it was he who was central to the goal.
Having started slowly, City were dominant in the game by the 20-minute mark. Toure clipped one over the bar and then, on 18 minutes, got round Cesar Azpilicueta and cut the ball back for Silva who unaccountably struck the ball wide. At that moment it felt like a matter of time before the home team would score but the goal never came, and Chelsea edged their way back in.
Their goal on 32 minutes was begun by Hazard, cutting in on his right foot from the left and getting the ball back from Ivanovic to turn it back to Ramires in the area. On that occasion Ramires should have scored but Vincent Kompany made a fine block. The ball dropped to Ivanovic on the right and he struck a beautiful left-footed shot across Hart and into the far corner.
Hazard made another chance for Ramires with a minute to play until half-time and he hit the post. By which time City were looking uncharacteristically ragged and the tension among the home support was beginning to tell.
That anxiety was not helped in the second half as Chelsea exerted their grip on the game, particularly in midfield where Pellegrini seemed reluctant to make changes. He later said that James Milner was not fully fit. He brought off Alvaro Negredo ten minutes after the break, an unremarkable performance from him, in favour of Stevan Jovetic.
They had to defend when the moment demanded it, never more so than when Cahill hooked the ball out the area when Silva recycled a missed opportunity from the left-side. This was an excellent performance from the Englishman who moments later had hit the post with a header from a corner, starting his run outward from the goal-line and twisting as he jumped to head the ball goalwards.
Until the last 20 minutes, when City stepped up their efforts, they struggled to get to grips with the task facing them. They had been confounded in the early stages of the second half by the running of Hazard whose confidence was boundless when he had the ball.
After Silva’s free kick was saved by Cech he was obliged to make another good stop from Jovetic in the closing stages. Just before then Mourinho felt that Matija Nastastic should have been sent off for a foul on substitute Oscar on the basis it was the denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity. It was one of the few things that did not go his way.
Goal: Ivanovic 32
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Kolarov; Navas, Toure, Demichelis, Silva; Dzeko, Negredo.
Subs: Negredo/Jovetic 55
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Luiz, Matic; Ramires, Willian, Hazard; Eto’o.
Subs: Eto’o/Oscar 83, Willian/Mikel 90, Hazard/Ba 90
Booked: Manchester City Demichelis, Kolarov, Nastasic Chelsea Ivanovic, Matic, Willian
Man of the match: Hazard
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