Tonight`s match against a seemingly resurgent Chelsea was a must win if City were to keep touch with United and make the upcoming derby game look like a season decider. The game was even more interesting because of the naming of Carlos Tevez on the bench for the first time since Bayern-gate. Should City win they would also break the Premier League continuous home wins record of nineteen games.
Injuries and an unreliable Savic meant a number of changes in defence as Richards was named stand in Captain and centre half with Zabaleta playing at right back. The team sheet read as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Richards (C), Kolo, Yaya, De Jong, Silva, Nasri, Aguero and Balotelli. The subs bench consisted of: Pantillimon, Kolarov, Savic, Milner, Barry, Dzeko and Tevez.
City started the game brightly and for long periods pushed Chelsea back, forcing them to defend deep and rely on the pace of Torres and Mata on the counterattack. Indeed in the opening ten minutes, Zabaleta had a shot deflected just wide and then Silva, unusually for him, shot way over the bar under little defensive pressure.
City`s best chance up to that point came soon after as the magnificent Nasri struck the Chelsea cross bar with a magnificent effort. The ball was played long up field by Yaya. Nasri took it sublimely on his chest and in one fluid motion struck the ball over the advancing Cech only to see it come back off the cross bar.
Of the Chelsea players, only Torres and Mata were having any luck and in the opening thirty minutes Chelsea midfield general Lampard was totally absent from the game. Torres though was quick to lose his balance and Mata fluffed Chelsea`s only real chance of the first half when he managed to scoop the ball high over Hart`s bar when it must have been easier to score.
City`s next chance didn`t come until the half hour mark, as despite dominating possession and playing lovely free flowing football, the decision making in the final third of the pitch was poor as players often chose to pass when they could have shot. Both Yaya and Aguero were guilty of this. This time it was a Lampard mistake as he played a weak pass along the half way line. The ball was intercepted by Balotelli who bore down on the Chelsea goal un-marked. It looked a certain goal as the crowd leapt to it`s feet. But the resultant shot was tame even poor and allowed Cech the chance it round his post.
An argument between Nasri and Balotelli as the teams walked off was the last straw for Mancini as he withdrew the volatile Italian and put Barry into the midfield to tighten up the game and allow Barry to test his range of passing and great vision. The move worked too as City began to dominate more and more. Chelsea looked to become more and more frustrated as their players chased the ball and fouls were creeping into their game.
It looked only a matter of time before City would score, but it was disaster not celebration that struck in the 60th minute. The ball was played in from the Chelsea right. Luiz meanwhile was attempting to borrow Barry`s shirt and stopped the City player from stopping the cross. As City looked for the free kick, Cahill took his chance. The shot was heading straight for Joe Hart before it took a wicked deflection off Yaya and trickled over the line.
City needed something special now. One nil down and with twenty four minutes on the clock, City`s former Captain and talisman made his way into the fray. There was a mixed response from the crowd and cheers and jeers rang out together, but the introduction of the fiery striker visibly lifted the team. Suddenly the movement and passing had extra zip. Spaces were appearing in the Chelsea defence as they struggled to follow the fluid movement of the City attack.
As City went looking for the all-important equaliser, Mancini introduced Dzeko as another attacking outlet, sacrificing Silva in the process. The move quite simply worked perfectly as Tevez and Dzeko combined to earn City a corner in the 77th minute. Nasri stepped up and played a ball to Zabaleta who, inside the box, struck a cross shot which struck the raised hands of Essien.
The ref had no doubt but checked the linesman`s vigorously waving flag none the less. The crowd went silent as the ref`s whistle pierced the air and he pointed to the spot. The crowd erupted. Aguero stepped up to take the penalty and coolly sent Cech the wrong way. No celebrations from the City players though. This was not over as only three points would do. In timely fashion Aguero picked the ball up and ran it to the centre spot.
City were playing with renewed vigour as they looked for the goal that would keep them in touching distance of United and also secure a record 20th win at home. Chelsea to a man were struggling to track the movement of the City front quartet of Nasri, Dzeko, Tevez and Aguero.
With five minutes of normal time to play, Nasri played the ball into Tevez on the edge of the Chelsea box. The Frenchman continued his run past Tevez as City`s controversial striker protected the ball and played a perfect return pass to Nasri. With the ball at his feet Nasri took two touches and delicately chipped the ball over the already grounded Cech and into the net. 2-1 to City and the Stadium erupted.
The next nine minutes seemed to last ninety as Mancini`s men protected their lead and played mature intelligent keep ball, frustrating Chelsea every time they pressed. The final whistle when it came was blessed relief to City. This was more than a record breaking win, more than keeping in touch with United, more than a fantastic comeback. This was a statement of intent and the Red`s of Stretford must be quaking in their boots.
Joe Hart – 7
Had little to do and caught out by a wicked deflection for the goal.
Pablo Zabaleta – 8
Put his body on the line and took a no nonsense approach that made the Chelsea players wary to attack down his side in case it got painful for them.
Micah Richards – 8
Solid defensive display in which he won nearly all his headers. Definitely a class above Savic. A Captain’s performance.
Kolo Toure – 7
Coped well with the somewhat stunted Chelsea attack, but can on occasion look slow and cumbersome.
Gael Clichy – 7
Played his best football in attack and did occasionally get caught out of position. Put in some good crosses and linked well with Barry in the second half.
Yaya Toure – 7.5
Could have had a penalty and should have taken two chances to shoot but opted to pass. Played a number of different roles well.
Nigel De Jong – 7.0
Tackled well and defended in front of the box, but his range of passing seems to have diminished. Sacrificed to allow another attacker in the shape of Tevez.
David Silva – 7
Whilst still a great player his touch does appear to have deserted him. His shots were woeful and his passing seemed to go astray. Might be carrying an injury.
Samir Nasri – 8.5
My Man Of The Match. Ran his heart out. His movement, application and passing were brilliant tonight and he had some great shots to boot.
Sergio Aguero – 7.5
Played well but hasn’t scored enough recently. Linked up well with Nasri and Zabaleta.
Mario Balotelli – 6.5
Taken off at half time and until Chelsea’s dodgy goal the introduction of Barry worked well. Should have scored when through on goal. Balotelli needs to put more of a shift in and not show such negative body language. Be a winner son.
Gareth Barry – 7.5
Introduced for Balotelll at half time and made a big difference with his passing ability and his intelligent reading of the game.
Carlos Tevez – 7.5
A name I never thought I would right again. Came on to a mixed reception but seemed to breathe new life into his team mates. City blew Chelsea out of the water after he came on. Makes you think what could have happened had he played for the last few months. Set up the winning goal.
Made a number of good runs down the left and was a general nuisance to the Chelsea back line. Looked to have found his first touch again.
Roberto Mancini – 8
Wasn’t afraid to make bold changes again and showed his dignity in playing Tevez. He may have been responsible for last week’s poor performance but he was also responsible for the great finish to this game. Bravo.
Ref Watch – Mike Dean
Denied City a penalty in the first half and gave them nothing for the first seventy minutes and looked to be a closet Chelsea fan. Inexplicably seemed to change alliegance as the game wore on and gave everything to City. Missed a blatant push on Barry before the Chelsea goal. We need replays to help the ref’s as the game is too fast for them.