Super Bran! Ivanovic strike sinks Pellegrini’s men and keeps Jose in the title hunt
The quick analysis is that Chelsea have blown the title race wide open. The reality is they have done more. Much, much more.
At the Etihad Stadium Chelsea exploded a myth. The myth of the Manchester City invincibles. We have all been falling for it, week by week, this notion that City’s title challenge was about to turn into a procession. There was so much evidence, thumping victories, week after week.
And then six days ago, as their main rivals stumbled, City put five past Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
The facts, the numbers seemed overwhelming. And then up stood Jose Mourinho to confound popular wisdom once again. Chelsea started last night in third place and ended it there, too — but they showed where there is a will there is a way, even against City.
The best team won on the night and City’s vulnerabilities have been exposed.
For Mourinho it was a personal triumph. He outwitted Manuel Pellegrini, showing that a team can be solid defensively while still possessing a mighty attacking threat. Chelsea had the best and clearest chances, City comparatively few until the final 15 minutes. David Silva came close, twice, one near miss, one fine Petr Cech save, but by then Chelsea could have been comfortable.
Potentially three up before half-time, Chelsea hit the woodwork twice in the second half, once from a long-range shot from man-of-the-match Nemanja Matic that grazed the bar, then from a Gary Cahill header that struck a post, full-on.
By playing so impressively on the counter-attack, Chelsea demonstrated that City are beatable, that this defence creaks like so many others, and that too many teams have passed this way too accepting of their fate. It was also a battle won with Pellegrini, the man he succeeded at Real Madrid.
The pair have now met on 10 occasions and Mourinho has won eight, with one draw.
Pick that one out: Ivanovic fires home from the edge of the box to give Chelsea the lead
Hittingh the back of the net: Ivanovic shot goes past Joe Hart in the City goal
Dejected look: Manchester City players react to going behind
It might be argued that the manager of Madrid should overcome a rival at Malaga, except two of those wins have come this season with a Chelsea squad considered inferior to City’s. It did not look that way last night. This was one of Mourinho’s greatest matches in the Premier League, but the best may be yet to come, if the point Chelsea proved to inspire others from here.
The announcement of Chelsea’s team saw much crowing about Mourinho parking the bus, but it wasn’t like that at all. The Chelsea manager had picked players to thwart Manchester City in midfield where they do most damage but he also packed his starting XI with enough pace to trouble Manuel Pellegrini’s team on the break, which is exactly what they did.
Mourinho knew City would see plenty of the ball at home and prepared for that. But he also knew there remains defensive vulnerability in this team, and planned for that, too. That City should lose their prime defensive midfielder Fernandinho to injury was just a lucky break. That happens.
Eyes wide shut: Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko and Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic fight for the ball
Boot it away: Petr Cech and Gary Cahill try and clear the ball before Alvaro Negredo can get to it
So in a first half when Manchester City enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, much of it around Chelsea’s penalty area, the visitors scored the only goal, had the best chance and hit the bar. All on the counter-attack, obviously, but nothing wrong with that. Some of the greatest teams in history have played on the counter and those coached by Mourinho are invariably masters of the art.
The first 45 minutes, certainly, was as good as it gets; a lesson in how to absorb pressure and return it as energy. In science fiction films the aliens have machines like this. They suck all the firepower out of humanity’s weapons and pay it back as one mighty explosion. That is what Chelsea did at the Etihad.
They should have gone a goal up after 27 minutes when a sustained period of City pressure ended with a suicidally underhit pass from Alvaro Negredo which necessitated a frantic last-ditch tackle by Martin Demechelis to stop a Chelsea break. Demechelis, deployed in midfield in Fernandinho’s absence, did his job but was unlucky with the rebound, and Chelsea were away.
Fight for the ball: City’s Martin Demichelis competes with Eden Hazard for the ball
Close, but not close enough: David Silva sees his effort go agonisingly wide
They were four on two when Willian slipped the ball to Ramires, who had only goalkeeper Joe Hart to beat. Ramires is a lively presence but he is no Deadeye Dick and his finish allowed Hart to make a fine save before Willian tried an ambitious overhead kick from the rebound, without success.
Five minutes later, however, Chelsea’s tactics paid off. Eden Hazard – their creative heart who was dealt with accordingly by City, much to Mourinho’s fury – exchanged passes with Ramires, whose shot was charged down forcefully by Vincent Kompany.
The ball ricocheted to Ivanovic, though, and as is his habit the full-back made a decisive goalscoring intervention, striking a low left-foot shot from just outside the area that flew across Hart and into the bottom corner.
Close ball control: Hazard gets the better of both Pablo Zabaleta and Demichelis
Winding runs: Hazard was a threat for Chelsea all evening
The Etihad watched, stunned. This wasn’t on the storyboard at all. This was meant to be the beginning of the predicted procession to the title. Yet the reality was that Chelsea had executed their gameplan better. City were left looking like Arsenal. Lots of lovely possession, lots of lovely football, but strategically short. Chelsea knew what they were about and could easily have gone in at half-time three clear.
There was a minute to go before the interval when a deep Hazard cross from the left picked out Samuel Eto’o in a surprising clearing at the far post. He struck the ball first time but against the bar as the Etihad flinched.
Bad day at the office: Pellegrini looks frustrated on the sideline as City lose
Park the bus? Not me: Mourinho looks happy with his team’s effort as Manuel Pellegrini shouts orders
This game could have been beyond the home team by the break. A second goal here would have invited no comeback. City? They most certainly had their first-half moments, with two-thirds of possession and some truly beautiful play. The best of it was a simply sumptuous move after 10 minutes that took in most of the team and ended with a cross from Aleksandar Kolarov that Yaya Toure, at full stretch, could not turn in at the far post.
Toure almost set up David Silva from close range soon after and deserves credit for not falling to the floor under a poorly considered tackle from Nemanja Matic. A lesser man may have fallen. It was behaviour befitting the contest.
Source : Daily Mail