City's record crumbles as Chelsea grab deserved away win

Laurence Griffiths

I am not a particularly gifted writer, especially on the fly, and so much of the time I plan out my posts, even match reports, well in advance. I pick up sentences and play with them, looking for cadence and flow. I think of fun metaphors that might enhance a win or take the sting out of a loss. I try to imagine how the match might go and come up with narrative paths I can stumble through when it comes time to write it up, win, lose or draw.

I had nothing -- absolutely nothing --  planned for a 1-0 win at the Etihad against Manchester City. It wasn't a result I'd seriously considered, and the fact that it was a thoroughly deserved one makes describing it all the stranger. Literally all I could think of to put in this post when Mike Dean blew the whistle for full time was this:

Look at the little guy go! He's so happy! Awwwww. Anyway, let's start from scratch.

Manchester City had a one hundred percent record at home in the league until now. They had not been held scoreless at the Etihad for 62 matches (against Alex McLeish's Birmingham City, whom you may remember from, like, a really goddamn long time ago). Sure, they'd been beaten by Bayern Munich, but being beaten by Bayern Munich is like admitting that you sometimes have to eat food. It's technically a sign of weakness and mortality, but nobody's going to hold it against you.

Seriously, Manuel Pellegrini's side had creamed pretty much everyone they'd come across here, and even though Chelsea won the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge, even though Sergio Aguero was out, even though the Blues are in fact better than any of those other teams, it was difficult not to be worried about a battering. The script, then, was that Jose Mourinho would order his team to defend for their lives and hope to nick a goal off a set piece or something.

In fact, the plan turned out to be 'blow up their midfield and then run stampede towards their terrified, bewildered defence', and it was, more or less, a roaring success. Granted, said plan was aided by Pellegrini opting to field Argentinian 'centre back' Martin Demichelis in central midfield (rumour has it that Fernandinho missed the match because he was afraid that Nemanja Matic would eat him), who spent much of his time ambling about like a slightly concussed giraffe as the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian zoomed past, but it still took some serious guts to exploit that weakness rather than focus on defending at all costs.

For the first few minutes, it looked like a mistake. Chelsea were fired up -- too fired up, in fact. Petr Cech and David Luiz spent the opening stages looking as though they'd been having a drinking contest in the locker room, Ramires was having trouble marking Aleksandar Kolarov*, and City were looking as though they'd be able to cut through us at will, no matter how well Gary Cahill and John Terry defended.

*I think he was supposed to be marking Kolarov, anyway, which might give you an indication of how much trouble he was having.

That turned out to be a short burst of pressure and nothing more. Yaya Toure failed to connect with Kolarov's cross at the far post, and suddenly it was all Chelsea. The hosts were over-committing, leaving just their centre backs and Perplexed Demichelis back when they tried to attack, but David Luiz (who had by now come to his senses and was busy channeling his capacity to cause carnage onto the opposition) and Matic were suddenly winning the ball in the middle, allowing the Blues to break forward at pace.

City were hit on the counter over and over again, with Willian and Hazard cutting the defence to shreds. Ramires had the ball in the back of the net off a cross by Samuel Eto'o only to see the strike ruled out for offside. Then Joe Hart saved from the Brazilian on a four-on-one brilliantly orchestrated by Willian and Matic. The goal was coming, and, bizarrely, it was coming for Chelsea.

When it finally arrived it did so in rather odd fashion. The Blues got the ball forward, but rather than drive right at Hart's goal and have Ramires fire in a hopelessly central shot, which seemed to be Plan A, Hazard tried something different: He'd be patient, wait for space to open, and then pass to Ramires, who would then drive right at Hart's goal and  fire in a hopelessly central shot. This had the unexpected side effect of seeing the ball rebound to Branislav Ivanovic at the edge of the box, and the fullback duly dispatched a left-footed effort into the far corner.

Given their lead, one might have excused Chelsea for being happy to sit back and repel attacks. After all, neither Edin Dzeko nor Alvaro Negredo really did anything, and hard work by the fullbacks and wide players ensured that the flanks were secure. They could probably have gotten away with parking the metaphorical bus.

But instead, the Blues kept pouring forward. Hazard in particular was brilliant, routinely shredding Pablo Zabaleta so thoroughly that I'm surprised he could stand up by the end of the match, and the Belgian's probing ball might have resulted in a second goal had Eto'o met the empty net with his snapshot rather than the crossbar.

It was the fourth time in three games that Chelsea had found the woodwork. They'd add to that tally in the second half. Matic let fly with a swerving 25-yarder that screamed past Hart and cannoned off the angle of post and bar; Cahill's header from a corner kick onomatopoeia'd its way off the base of the post to make it a hattrick of very-near-misses. And there were other chances besides -- only some extraordinarily curious shot selection was preventing the scoreline from taking on a rather more one-sided flavour.

One got the feeling that the misses would come back to haunt us, and City finally got themselves in gear when they hauled off the tame Negredo in place of Stevan Jovetic and shifted into a 4-2-3-1. With Toure causing trouble and Jovetic roaming between the lines, the hosts were suddenly a lot harder to keep track of, and although Hazard and Willian were doing a magnificent job relieving pressure when Chelsea won the ball, the tightening of the noose was almost palpable.

Toure had flashed a shot just across the face of Cech's goal in the 51st minute, but the goalkeeper ended up facing some rather sterner tests. David Silva made him work with a curling free kick given after Toure had kicked Willian (work that one out), and far later Jovetic nearly grabbed an equaliser with a thumping shot from outside the box which nearly managed to sneak past the goalkeeper before he knew it was coming.

Still the defence held firm. Oscar came on for the exhausted Eto'o, and as the time ticked away in between City corners, both Willian and Hazard were pulled for bigger guns in John Obi Mikel and Demba Ba. Ba's first touch was to clear the hosts' final corner, but the ball eventually fell to Matija Nastisic in space anyway. The defender might not have been on the pitch after thwarting a Chelsea counterattack by downing Oscar as the last man seven minutes prior, but by way of apologising for his earlier rudeness he scuffed a weak shot well wide.

And that, as it turned out, would be that. Chelsea had won at the Etihad, and although they got a little lucky in keeping a clean sheet, they were phenomenally unfortunate not to have notched two or three more goals. It was a dominating performance, one that will thoroughly please both the supporters and the manager, and it's one which many predicted simply couldn't be done against a team like this.

Park the bus against City? Chelsea ran them over with it instead.

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