Premier League title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea met at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night, with the visitors ending a venerable home record for Manuel Pellegrini’s men this season with a 1-0 victory.
Branislav Ivanović’s first-half goal was the difference between the sides, and ensures that there is only two points between the top three sides going into the business end of the campaign.
Although City started brightly, Chelsea struck back and put in an assured and dominant performance. Here are some key observations from the game.
Mourinho the master tactician
José Mourinho extended an excellent personal record over Pellegrini to seven wins from eight clashes, and his Chelsea side put in another comprehensive performance against a rival away from home.
The way that the Blues set up their side to absorb pressure and hit on the counter attack was reminiscent of the points gained at the Emirates Stadium and Old Trafford this season.
It is clear that the Portuguese manager is happy to set his side up for a draw, hoping for better, away from home against a top side. This is complemented by the emphasis to win the corresponding fixture at Stamford Bridge – which the west London outfit have done this season against City and United.
Chelsea’s ability to keep a clean sheet also breaks a long-standing City record. Prior to Monday night’s game, City had scored in every Premier League game at the Etihad Stadium since a 0-0 draw with Birmingham back in November 2010.
Chelsea use their best defender as an attacking outlet
With David Silva lining up on the left of midfield for City, the eastern European defender was able to get forward and double up with Ramires against Aleksandar Kolarov.
For all his creativity and attacking emphasis, Silva showed no inclination to turn towards his own goal and City suffered down their left as a result.
Ivanović was also pushed forward on the right flank as an aerial threat, with the Serb winning a fair share of headers in the final third against countryman Kolarov.
Yaya finally meets his match
Yaya Touré is arguably the most influential central midfielder in the Premier League, and started this match like he was set to dominate affairs once more.
Having rejoined Chelsea from Benfica in January, Matić looks like a much more rounded player than the youngster that turned up at Stamford Bridge the first time round.
His physical presence in the heart of the side is just what the doctor ordered, but his ability on the ball and technique were also on show – Touré has a new challenger for his crown as the division’s best central midfielder.
City look flustered for the first time this season
However, after Chelsea weathered an early storm, the Blues managed to get on top and Ivanović’s goal really took the wind out of City’s sails. From there on in, Chelsea were thoroughly the better side, and should have scored more than their solitary first-half strike.
City, who are usually so pinpoint and ruthless, misplaced passes, had key players panicking and looked nothing like the side that has been named as favourites for the Premier League title.
The presence of the likes of Sergio Agüero and Fernandinho was admittedly missed, but Pellegrini’s side looked susceptible to pressure for the first time since a shaky period in their 2-0 win over Hull back in August.
Hazard simply masterful
Despite the array of attacking talent on show, one man stood out. Eden Hazard looked like a real threat every time he picked up possession and was the driving force of a Chelsea counter attack that could have heralded three or four goals.
The Belgium international has shaken off a slow start to the season to recover and improve upon previous excellent form. With the World Cup in Brazil in the former Lille man’s sights, Hazard has the chance to put his hand up as one of the world’s best players this summer.
All of a sudden, Chelsea’s decision to sell Juan Mata to United seems understandable, as Hazard in this form is as good as anyone in the English top flight.
With Jesús Navas struggling to make a major impact on the game, one wonders just how much of a powerhouse City would be had it been them that landed Hazard’s signature instead of Chelsea back in June 2012.