MATCH REPORT: MANCHESTER CITY 0 CHELSEA 1
A mighty performance earned a huge win in Manchester on Monday night with Branislav Ivanovic's sweet first-half strike separating these two title challengers.
Until this game City had been behind at home for only eight minutes during this league season but with Jose Mourinho's game plan working well, we not only ended their 100 per cent record, we also became the first team to stop them scoring on home soil.
There could have been more goals too for the visitors, with Samuel Eto'o, Nemanja Matic and Gary Cahill all hitting woodwork, and when City did strike on target, Petr Cech was equal to their best efforts.
The defence was unchanged from the draw at home to West Ham and Samuel Eto'o led the attack for the fourth game running, but there were changes in midfield.
The height of David Luiz and Nemanja Matic were paired in the centre and ahead of them, Ramires was played wide on the right with Eden Hazard on the left and Willian the more central of the attacking midfielders. That meant Oscar was on the bench, as was Mohamed Salah for the first time.
Man City's usual central midfield pair was broken up by an injury to Fernandinho which meant Martin Demichelis was moved from defence to partner Yaya Toure. Matija Nastasic came into central defence and Aleksander Kolarov was preferred to Gael Clichy at left-back. A third change from their starting line-up in their last game at Spurs was Alvaro Negredo replacing injured Sergio Aguero up front.
There were predictions from some quarters in the lead-up to this game that it would be a cagey affair; that Chelsea would come to defend and take a point. How lacking in foresight those proved to be.
It was a however a messy opening by Mourinho's men. With just seconds gone, Cesar Azpilicueta's clearance bounced off an opponent towards our area and Cech had to intervene twice with his feet, the second time nearly getting in a mix-up with Gary Cahill. Then Negredo was allowed into our area too easily but he snatched at such an early chance and rifled his shot over.
Vincent Kompany went in heavily on Eto'o from behind on five minutes and earned the game's first lecture from referee Mike Dean. The City captain was perhaps fortunate not to see a yellow card. Eto'o recovered, having managed to ride the foul well.
It was City's turn to look chaotic at the back when Hazard set Willian running at them but after a missed clearance by the home side, the Brazilian couldn't pick out a team-mate with a cross. It was an early sign of the counter-attacking that would cause City more problems as the half went on.
City showed their teeth when Pablo Zabaleta flashed a low ball across our six-yard box and the sliding Yaya Toure just failed to make contact at the far post. Toure did get his boot to the ball on 15 minutes and went close to scoring, scooping his shot from just outside the area over the bar.
The Ivorian was having a dominant few minutes, and from his driving run past Matic, he teed up David Silva who fortuitously could only help the ball wide of the far post from a few yards out.
Chelsea's immediate response lacked shooting aim. Eto'o fired straight at Hart and David Luiz skied a free-kick after Hazard on the run had been checked by Nastasic.
On 26 minutes however we almost showed what we could do as a counter-attacking force, but Hart dived and saved from Ramires. A right-foot first-time pass from Matic had set Willian away and he drew the defence towards him before setting up the shooting chance for his compatriot.
With our next attack we took the lead. Hazard was involved twice in the move, on each side of the pitch as the Blues exchanged passes in and around the City area. The Belgian picked out Ramires and although his shot was blocked, there was no stopping the thunderbolt that flew off the left boot of Ivanovic 25 yards out. There were 31 minutes gone and Chelsea were 1-0 ahead.
No sooner had the scorer finished celebrating and started playing again, he was booked for a foul on Silva.
To quickly emphasis that City were vulnerable, Hazard forced a save from Hart following a poor defensive clearance straight to his feet, after he had initially started the attack by shepherding a bouncing ball away from Demichelis.
Not long after, Demicheles was booked for a foul on Hazard and Kolarov followed into the notebook for one on David Luiz. In between those incidents, Dzeko shot high and wide for the home side whose fans were starting to sound a little frustrated.
Three minutes before the break, Hazard, who was giving City right-back Zabaleta a tough evening, opened up City with a run and cross from the left but when it came to unmarked Eto'o running in from the right, the Cameroonian's composure deserted him and he smashed his shot onto the bar.
Despite that miss, Manuel Pelligrini's side went in at the break knowing they were without doubt in a proper match.
The second period began as the first one finished, with Chelsea causing City all sorts of difficulties. One special Hazard dribble promised much until a moment of misunderstanding between him and Ivanovic; and then Willian had a shot deflected wide after Hart cleared poorly.
City threats on the Chelsea goal were inevitable too, with Toure firing wide with a low shot.
The impressive Nemanja Matic went a whole lot closer on 52 minutes when from 30 yards out, he hit the post with a lovely strike that would have beaten the diving Hart had it swung away a touch less.
Pellegrini was the first to shuffle his pack, bringing on Stevan Jovetic for Negredo on 56 minutes.
No-one could take their eyes off this enthralling contest as these two Premier League heavyweights continued to test each other to the full. David Luiz and Ramires carefully manufactured a corner and from Willian's delivery the Blues hit the woodwork for a third time, Cahill with a great leap and header the man denied. The England centre-back was back near his goal line only moments later to block a shot.
On 68 minutes Cahill was again the man in the right place to cut out a dangerous cross. The home side appeared to be rousing themselves with time now running out.
Willian conceded a free-kick in a concerning position and Cech was called upon to make his most difficult save yet from David Silva's strike. The Spaniard then shot wide from 12 yards out after City moved the ball quickly in attack.
Oscar replaced Eto'o as Mourinho made his first sub late in the game. Hazard would play as the most forward player until replaced in added time. The Belgian almost threaded the right pass for the overlapping Ramires but Hart was out quick enough to smother the ball.
A second goal on the break had been a possibility throughout and there was controversy when Chelsea broke with City lacking numbers at the back. Oscar was pulled down by Nastasic just inside the City half. Our man had a long way to go to goal but it could have been a red card. Instead the defender was shown yellow. Mourinho disagreed with the colour.
Willian was booked for taking too long to walk off as Chelsea made two subs in stoppage time.
In was tense, and Cech was called upon to make a late save from Jovetic who had improved his side since coming on, but when Nastastic took a swing and made poor contact as the final chance dropped inside the Chelsea area, three big points were ours and we had done the double over City.
We remain third in the table but only two points behind leaders Arsenal who are yet to come to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; D Luiz, Matic; Ramires, Willian (Mikel 90+2), Hazard (Ba 90+3); Eto'o (Oscar 83).
Unused subs Schwarzer, Cole, Lampard, Salah.
Scorer Ivanovic 31.
Booked Ivanovic 33, Matic 39, Willian 90+2.
Man City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Nastasic, Kolarov; Navas, Y Toure, Demichelis, Silva; Dzeko, Negredo (Jovetic 56).
Unused subs Pantilimon, Clichy, Boyata, Milner, Rodwell, Lopes.
Booked Demichelis 36, Kolarov 42, Nastastic 86.
Referee Mike Dean