Jose Mourinho put his faith in the numbers. With 16 matches left to play, a large enough figure to worry any lead, admittedly, and a five-point cushion, Chelsea were obviously in command of the Premier League race. And from that position, it's possible -- preferable, even -- to grind your opposition down. Time and maths are powerful allies.
The pressure was on Manchester City to cut down the gap, and Manuel Pellegrini gave lip-service to the notion that the defending champions would come out swinging at Stamford Bridge. And I suppose they'll say that that's what they did: Chelsea were clearly on the back foot for most of the game, and we barely did anything in the opposing area.
But if the visitors dominated, it was a very strange kind of dominance. Repeatedly gifted the ball in dangerous positions, they singularly failed to take advantage of their gifts, and it took a serious error from Thibaut Courtois for City to score at all. Instead, they played safe, refusing to get sucked up the pitch and become vulnerable to the counterattack.
This had the curious effect of completely nullifying Chelsea's game plan, which was obvious from the second Olivier Giroud scored at the Etihad a fortnight ago. The counterattack was the order of the day, and with City caught in a must-win trap, you have to imagine that Mourinho was licking his lips at the prospect of a speedy front line running at Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis.
Instead we got what was essentially a big blob of nothing. The requisite Sergio Agüero breakaway aside (and both Kurt Zouma and Courtois did very well in forcing him to snap his shot past the far post), nothing of any real import happened before the opener, which came in the 41st minute. Until then we were existing in some sort of football limbo, with City playing clever passes all over the Chelsea half without threatening and then Branislav Ivanovic immediately giving the ball back whenever we won it*.
*Ok, perhaps an exaggeration. He certainly suffered today, but not half so much as Cesar Azpilicueta, who looked extremely leggy, perhaps as a result of the injury he sustained against Newcastle a month ago.
Just as I was wondering whether I could get away with writing NOTHING HAPPENED in 100pt font and calling it a match report, Loïc Rémy gave the Blues a critical lead. Willian won a battle against Gael Clichy on the right flank, and the ball was eventually worked to Ivanovic coming in off the touchline. He looked up and played a very un-Ivanovic pass, lifting the ball over the defence and into the path of Eden Hazard.
Having peeled off the back of Bacary Sagna, the Belgian was in space but still had plenty to do. With Ivanovic's pass still in the air, Hazard swept a smart cross through the six yard box, leaving Joe Hart stranded and Vincent Kompany looking like an idiot. And Rémy, in for the suspended Diego Costa, was on hand to smash into the open net.
It was very much like André Schürrle's strike in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, and just like that goal this one wouldn't go unanswered. We'd barely had time to celebrate before a bizarre set of circumstances combined to pull City level.
Hazard was scampering down the left touchline when the ball was adjudged to do some sort of quantum tunnelling thing over the line and out of play -- don't argue with Mark Clattenburg over this, for he is a theoretical physicist beyond compare and can see with piercing eye into the seething chaos that we call reality -- and from the resulting throw in, Jesus Navas got a cross in.
Normally Navas crossing wasn't much of a problem (which was good, because he spent the whole evening absolutely torching Azpilicueta), but on this occasion James Milner managed to put off Courtois enough that the big goalkeeper failed to either collect or clear the ball, which then fell to Agüero on the edge of the box. With Courtois stranded, Agüero fired in towards the far post, and although we had defensive cover there it was circumvented by an annoyingly timely intervention from David Silva.
So we went into halftime at 1-1, at which point Chelsea were obviously happy to wait for their guests to get desperate. To say we were unambitious would be an understatement, but there were a few reasons for us to sit back and defend. In the first place, we'd been forced into extra time after an enormously intense match on Tuesday, while City were completely fresh. Secondly, the draw favoured us. Thirdly, injuries had royally depleted the bench. And fourth, City weren't doing much of anything.
Wave after wave of attacks were repulsed not just by stout defending but rank cowardice from the defending champions. Time and again the safe choice was taken rather than risk losing the ball even though the path to Courtois' goal looked open. And that's why, despite them dominating possession, the best City could do after the break was a mis-head header from Fernandinho and a silly shot from an impossible angle by James Milner.
That isn't to say that we were entirely comfortable -- we were forced onto the back foot for almost all of the second half -- but the score never looked in any real danger of changing. Low-level stress, nowhere near approaching panic, was the order of the day, and the Blues navigated it without a problem. There was even time for a late debut for youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who made his first Premier League appearance as an injury time sub.
A win would have been better, but a draw is a perfectly fine result. Five points clear with 16 to go has turned into five clear with 15 left. It's early days yet, but our friend the clock is still ticking away.
PS: I still think Frank Lampard is cool.