Mourinho the master as classy Chelsea see off City

Posted by Mark Worrall

A tactical master-class from Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, augmented by a fine first-half strike from Branislav Ivanovic, was enough to end Manchester City's 100% Premier League home record as the London club cruised to a comfortable 1-0 victory at the Etihad. An outstanding performance, and the three points gained as a result of it, sees the Blues draw level with the Citizens on 53 points, just two points behind leaders Arsenal.

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The build up to Monday night's clash of the titans had seen critics of Mourinho and Chelsea far and wide joking that the Stamford Bridge outfit were going to "park the bus", "play 8-1-1", "19th Century Football" and "defend, defend, defend" at the Etihad -- but after the expected early effervescence from Manchester City, as the game evolved, the denigrators shuffled into the shadows as the visitors imposed themselves on a game in which for long periods any independent observer would have thought they were the home side.

Despite the media noise suggesting the contrary, Blues boss Mourinho had made it patently clear that his team were under instructions take the game to City. Eyebrows had been raised when the Blues starting XI was announced and the familiar name of playmaker Oscar was to be found only among the substitutes, but any thoughts that this might be somehow borne out of a plan for Chelsea to employ a negative approach to the game were soon dispelled.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech and a backline of Cesar Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanovic, captain John Terry and Gary Cahill had a dependable, solid, pressure-soaking look to them, and as a unit they displayed the type of cohesion that was decisively lacking in their counterparts. A combative defensive midfield combination of David Luiz and January transfer window signing Nemanja Matic were armed and ready to stifle and break up City's creativity, while further forward Ramires, Willian, Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto'o were tasked with getting into the spaces that would open up on the flanks as Manuel Pellegrini's men endeavoured to play their normal expansive game.

Shorn of the services of Fernandinho, Pellegrini opted to play his trusted lieutenant Martin Demichelis in a defensive midfield role with Yaya Toure roaming forward -- it was a crack in City's armour that Chelsea were swift to exploit with Eden Hazard in particular covering, and counter-attacking in a purposeful manner that gave the Blues the initiative and impetus required to break the deadlock.

Mourinho's men were tireless. At the heart of Chelsea's defence, Terry and Cahill mastered Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko with consummate ease and Matic had the measure of David Silva throughout the game. Toure and Silva had combined well, but their early attempts to ripple the Blues net yielded nothing and Chelsea were always first to the ball -- drilling it forwards and into space at every given opportunity.

In the 27th minute, having broken up a tippy-tappy Manchester City play, Matic released Willian and Chelsea broke forward in numbers. The Brazilian played in his countryman Ramires only to see his subsequent attempt to score with a deft curling shot thwarted by Joe Hart in the City goal. Five minutes later, the Blues had the lead. Livewire Hazard teed up Ramires who saw his first time shot blocked by Citizens skipper Vincent Kompany -- the loose ball ricocheted back to Ivanovic who had made a buccaneering run to the edge of the penalty area and the Serb mustered a perfect left-foot volley which screamed past Hart into the net. 1-0.

Shortly before half-time, Hazard, City's tormentor-in-chief, was involved again when Eto'o met an inch-perfect cross from the Belgian and was denied by the crossbar from doubling Chelsea's lead.

If the break had been there to give Pellegrini the opportunity to galvanise his troops, nothing was in evidence as referee Mike Dean got the second period underway. First Matic saw a fierce shot cannon off the woodwork, and then a towering Cahill header from a Willian corner also struck a post.

By now the City boss had decided to make a change sending on Stefan Jovetic for Negredo and the home side finally woke up to the task of trying to find an equaliser. Alexsander Kolarov had a shot blocked by Cahill and Silva saw a free-kick tipped away by the left hand of Cech. The home side continued to create chances, but as the sands of time ebbed away, Mourinho used late substitutions to good effect with Oscar replacing Eto'o, and later John Obi Mikel and Demba Ba coming on for the excellent Willian and man-of-the-match Hazard, respectively.

City had all but given up the ghost when Matija Nastasic pulled back Oscar, who might have had a clear run on goal -- Mourinho wanted a red card, Dean waved a yellow card. The favourable decision spurred the home side on and with the game deep in injury time, Cech first made a fine save from Jovetic and then saw Nastasic screw a volley wide of his goal. Dean looked at his watch one final time and signalled the end of the game. Victory for Chelsea; victory for Mourinho.

It may still be too early to talk of title-deciders, but the manner in which the Blues secured all three points on previously unconquerable turf will send warning shots a-plenty in the direction of those who question the methods of the man who remains fully entitled to be called The Special One. After Monday night's result, few would bet against the Portuguese bringing the Premier League trophy back to Stamford Bridge in May.

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