It was a fantastic performance from the Blues and Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese pragmatist got everything spot-on. The team, the strategy, the tempo, the mood. He knew the stakes, he knew how to win, he knew when to risk, when to gamble, when to hold. It was a masterclass in management, emphasising why he has uniquely mentored coaches who have gone on to become Premier League managers (Brendan Rodgers, Steve Clarke).
There was not one player which I could fault, and it was an exceptional team effort, as proved by Demba Ba. During his post-match formalites, Jose felt the Senegalese’s contribution typified our excellent team performance, saying:
“Demba Ba played 30 seconds and cleared the last corner of the match. He was intelligent because I told him to mark Joe Hart if there was a corner. Hart didn’t go so he went to the space and won the ball in that space. Everyone did a fantastic job for the team.”
And as Jose said Billy McCulloch the masseur had the honour of delivering the pre-match team talk, it gratifyingly rounded off an enjoyable evening for all Chelsea fans, as we condemned Manuel Pellegrini’s side to their first home league loss of the season.
For the large part of the campaign so far, we have never been as aesthetically impressive as Manchester City. Instead, we have grown to grind out results and defend well, a contrast to our disappointing defensive yield earlier in the season. Jose is undeniably committed to the stance that we are not participants in the race for the title, alternatively insisting we are an improving side and can mount a serious challenge for the Premier League crown next year. But after this display, I can’t help but consider ourselves as title favourites, as I and many did from the outset.
We moved level on points with our Manchester opponents thanks to a sensational Branislav Ivanovic strike on the half-hour mark as the Serb’s piledriver proved enough to secure three vital points and banish City to the first home Premier League defeat of the season.
It could and should have been more, as Ramires saw his close-range shot thwarted by Hart following a four on two counter-attack opening before Samuel Eto’o, Gary Cahill and Nemanja Matic struck the woodwork.
It came courtesy of a brilliant all-round display, from Petr Cech to Eto’o to thirty-second cameo man Ba. However, I feel the need to give a special mention to Nemanja Matic, who was making his full Premier League debut at the most arduous stadium in the division, for his production of a commendable performance in midfield. The Serb, who played superbly well against Stoke in the FA Cup, looks to have adequately filled a void in our team, with his varied range of passing, thunderous left-foot, and strength, as shown by his plain bullying of Yaya Toure.
The attacking trio behind Eto’o, which consisted of Eden Hazard, Willian and Ramires, were additionally superb as they caused City a mixture of problems and exploited the space left behind by Martin Demichelis and the galloping Toure.
To boast the title of champions, beating your title rivals is imperative. And we’ve accomplished the feat twice, securing the double over Pellegrini’s wounded men. Prior to kick-off, I could not understand the general pessimism aired by the majority of our supporting contingent. My confidence and faith in Jose was channelled into my match preview, but it was doubted by some, one user of the name “DP” kindly enquiring if I was on “dope”. But I had my reasons for my optimistic frame of mind. After all, we had beaten them once already, their defence has consistently proven to air a dodgy fragrance about it and we have the attacking armoury to take advantage of any unsatisfactory defending. I had singled out and targeted Demichelis, a particular favourite of Pellegrini and an absolute shambles at the back, but my good feeling was increased after I had shot a glance at the team-sheet.
Fernandinho has played a pivotal role in City’s success this season, in a campaign which has seen them become sighted as potential quadruple champions. But in the Brazilian’s absence, Pellegrini selected Demichelis to start alongside Toure, a preference we gleefully took advantage of. The Argentine, an unreliable centre-back by trade, struggled to contend with the pacey counter-attacks we so often sprung as we by far looked the better team.
Mourinho, renown for his surprise selections in anticipation of significant matches, did not raise too many eyebrows as he selected a familiar side to walk out onto the Etihad Stadium turf. However, Jose opted for Ramires over fellow Brazilian Oscar alongside Hazard and Willian. Cesar Azpilicueta, who produced a fine performance, was once again preferred to England international Ashley Cole as Matic made his full league debut since his re-signing from Benfica. The Serb was selected alongside the unpredictable David Luiz who seems unsettled with the rotation of his position.
True, it was an immaculate showing from both manager and players, but the season does not end here. The title should be in our sights, but if we do not triumph this campaign and just continue our rapid improvement, then next season, as Jose said, is when we’ll be the favourites.
We have got a good run-in so anything is possible.
Newcastle next as Chelsea roars on!