Monday, 3 February 2014

Man City 0-1 Chelsea - City's Invincibility Ended By The Old Master.

For perhaps the first time this season, Manchester City never really looked like scoring. The team that has broken all the records, yet still went into the evening behind Arsenal at the top, may look back on tonight as the night their dreams evaporated. It was by no means a title decider, but perhaps a reminder that for all the talk of quadruples, and history-making, there are 19 other teams in this league, and at least two others in the title race.

Branislav Ivanovic hauled Chelsea level on points with City, with a beautifully struck 32nd minute effort, and truthfully, the away side fully deserved it. All the talk in the build-up was of Chelsea showing us a masterclass of parking the bus, and of Jose Mourinho's inevitable hypocrisy. He would be sent packing with a heavy defeat and Sam Allardici would smirk to himself over a pint in one of West London's numerous pubs. Not the case. Instead the masterclass was of counter-attacking; a compact midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Ramires, and Willian providing the ideal platform for Eden Hazard to run rings around a decidedly suspect-looking City backline.

The movement was hypnotic, the passing was crisp, and the space Chelsea were finding should have been punished by more than the one goal. The woodwork came to City's rescue three times, and Hazard gave evidence to support his claim as the Premier League's standout attacking midfielder, at least this week. A Man City side containing Yaya Toure and David Silva looked bereft of both urgency and creativity, something that must be reversed if Manuel Pellegrini is to come anywhere near his bold predictions of quadruple glory.

Fortunately for the home side, they are unlikely to come across a team so well-organised as Mourinho's Chelsea again this season, but to not only fail to win but lose could yet prove costly at the end of the season. Mourinho has time and time again played down his side's title chances, claiming that second place would be ahead of schedule for his plan, but secretly he will smell blood. Both Arsenal and City are wonderful to watch in full flow, but Mourinho has the most recent experience of the three managers in winning the Premier League. It would be foolish to call the Stamford Bridge men the new title favourites, but their odds would have been significantly shortened on the blowing of the final whistle.

Pellegrini and Man City may yet re-write the history books, but tonight acted as a gentle reminder of mortality - they can be beaten, even at the Etihad. The next visitors - Gus Poyet's rejuvenated Sunderland - will perhaps not feel quite the same trepidation, as the cloak of invincibility has fallen from the Sky Blues. About bloody time.

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