Date: 4th February 2014 at 12:40am
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There were some signs when City played Watford that Fortress Etihad was maybe starting to crumble. Tonight it came down like a house of cards as Chelsea became the first team in what seems like an age to double City up.

Playing a brand of football reminiscent of many teams that come here looking for a point, not only did they prevent free-scoring Manchester City from scoring, but in their quest for a point actually snatched all three with a bonus goal midway through the first half.

With Fernandinho suffering a training injury that will keep him out for 3 to 4 weeks according to Manuel Pellegrini, plus Nasri and Aguero still out of action Pellegrini in my opinion played right into the hands of his nemesis, Jose Mourinho. Selecting Demichelis as a holding midfielder, Nastasic at the back and Dzeko and Negredo up top, by default he played right into Chelsea’s strengths.

And with Demichelis unable to provide the dynamism that we see from Fernandinho, Yaya became overloaded, Silva became anonymous and the Chelsea goal was devoid of threat, despite attempt after attempt.

Mourinho had done his homework. His players sat on Yaya and Silva, double-banked Navas and went one-on-one between Terry and Cahill on Negredo and Dzeko. They packed their midfield with a mixture of skullduggery and skill, with an ability to break quickly through the effervescent if regularly tumbling Hazard. Chelsea nullified the Navas-Zabaleta overlap routing down the right, often forcing City infield where Luiz and Ramires held the fort.

If they surrendered possession, they were quick to break up or stop play in order to re-assemble behind the ball, effectively lying in wait for City, who simply struggled to gain any kind of offensive foothold in this match. For the second night in succession the team with the best defence got the better of the team with the best offence. On Sunday the Seahawks saw off the Broncos in the Superbowl and tonight Chelsea saw of City in the Barclays Premier League to effectively blow the title race wide open as more or less a three horse race.

City began the match in normal fashion, on the front foot and setting up a couple of chances that could and should have opened the scoring. Chelsea were resilient and some of the marksmanship was off key. The London Blues then started to get control of key areas and City were forced to endure some typical Mourinho cynicism in order to slow down proceedings, take the sting out of City’s attack and more importantly introduce an air of restlessness amongst a City crowd that has feasted on goals galore so far this season at the Etihad.

A draw may well have been the intended outcome, but when Kompany blocked a shot midway through the half, the ball sat up beautifully for the colossus known as Ivanovic who drilled it purposefully into the far corner away from Hart and into the net. Chelsea probably hadn’t read their own script, but here they were a goal to the good and looking untroubled by City’s attack.

Enter the time-wasting, enter the fouls, enter the injury faking from Hazard, enter every trick in Mourinho’s book which has hardly budged from a night in Malaga where I witnessed the worst football match I have ever seen between Porto and the Bokerones and which was clearly under the Mourinho tutelage. This was not football to pay the gate money for, but it was effective, did the job. In fact on the break they managed to rattle the woodwork three times, each one with Hart floundering.

It is true that Cech made two outstanding saves, the first from Silva’s free kick and the second from an elaborate goalbound shot from substitute Jovetic, but City did not have enough tonight to bother Chelsea who will feel that the win was within their capabilities and beyond City’s.

Too many stalwarts were out of sorts for City. Zaba and Navas could hardly get going down the right. Kompany was not his commanding self, Nastasic looked a bit out of his depth. In midfield Yaya and Silva were held tight and Demichelis was in the wrong place. Up front Dzeko was terrible and Negredo not much better.

For me, City needed to maintain some energy levels in midfield and Demichelis cannot do this. It would have been better to put Milner in their rather than chain him to the bench. Every man and his dog knew that the towering presence of Dzeko and Negredo played straight into the hands of Terry and Cahill, so why didn’t the Engineer? Dzeko missed one glorious chance and for the rest of the night looked like Bambi on ice as his legs went in all directions except that of the ball, his ability to jump neglected him leaving his Chelsea counterparts in command and his goal radar was on the blink.

The Beast fared no better as the spaces he seeks out were quickly closed and he was forced out into safe places where his opportunities were few and far between. Jovetic when he came on looked the best bet for an equaliser and so very nearly found it in stoppage time when he surprised Cech with a well struck curling shot which the giant keeper did well to keep out.

Without Aguero and Nasri there was nothing to really concern the centre backs and it was a night of total frustration for City’s fans. Despite his adulation of the grass Hazard had a good game for Chelsea, making decent runs into space and on occasions looking capable of setting chances up, but as Eto’o was the only striker most of that work went unheralded. But the scoreline could have favoured Chelsea even more.

City will now re-group for their trip to Norwich before Sunderland come to the Etihad looking to destroy City’s title hopes even further and try to emulate Chelsea’s success.

For me City should file this performance under “C” and move on.

UPCOMING DATES FOR YOUR FILOFAX:
all times East Manchester GMT

Sa 08Feb 15h00 Norwich City, Carrow Road, PL
We 12Feb 19h45 Sunderland, The Etihad, PL
Sa 15Feb 17h15 Chelsea, The Etihad, FAC5
Tu 18Feb 19h45 FC Barcelona, The Etihad, CL
Sa 22Feb 15h00 Stoke City, The Etihad PL
Su 02Mar 14h00 Sunderland, Wembley, LCF

 

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