The title race may be over but the fighting spirit still burns brightly. This was a performance of an impressive nature from City, the desire and togetherness that characterised last season interspersed with moments of genuine quality. It was a display that has been seen all too infrequently during this campaign but it highlighted what a force the Blues can be on their day. Utterly dominant in midfield, controlling of the tempo and thanks to two glorious goals, victorious.
Chelsea were hugely limited, make no mistake, but there was a fluency and spark about City that has been missing for much of this season. Notable performances coursed through the side, the likes of Kolo Toure, Matija Nastasic, Jack Rodwell, James Milner and David Silva all viable man of the match contenders, and even if our hopes of retaining the Premier League title have faded, there is still a necessity to show character and resilience in the remaining games. We did just that and more.
Roberto Mancini’s tactics were key, his deployment of Yaya Toure in his advanced role and the inclusion of Jack Rodwell both paying off tremendously. The ‘two-holding-midfielders-with-Yaya-further-forward’ tactic is one Mancini favoured in his first season and it was especially effective towards the back end of the previous campaign but he has been reluctant to use it this time around. Yesterday, conscious to win the midfield battle, he did, and with Javi Garcia and Rodwell sitting deeper, it allowed Yaya the freedom to cause havoc to Chelsea’s backline.
Liberated from the defensive duties he views with contempt, Yaya was a huge influence in the first half, his pace and power, combined with an elegant touch, providing a different dimension to our attacks. Although there were no tangible rewards before the interval, it was a commanding, authoritative performance from the Ivorian who, by anyone’s standards, has had an underwhelming season. After the break, he proved his pedigree once more, finding the breakthrough thanks to a mixture of his delicate touch and imposing figure.
Nominally behind him in one of the two deeper roles was Rodwell, finally, it seems, over the injury problems that have dogged his career. After struggling with hamstring strains throughout his time at Everton and City, our medical team clearly decided to wholly cure the problem. Whereas the Toffees perhaps rushed him back out of necessity, we have seemingly afforded him the time to recover fully, combining recovery and strengthening work and it is hoped he can now remain free from his troubles and really kick on.
His display yesterday gave a glimpse of his potential. Named alongside Garcia, he was actually a purposeful and vibrant threat when attacking: his rangy, energetic style enabling him to burst forward time and time again. He was the target for many of our crosses, an aerial presence arriving in the box late. His footwork in tight situations was impeccable and his pressing of John Obi Mikel set the tone for those around him, forcing errors from Chelsea’s midfielders and defence. It is all too easy to get carried away, but whilst patience will be required with him, there were more than enough promising signs on Sunday to suggest we have bought a diamond.
In fact, there were powerful performances throughout the spine of the side. In defence, Kolo Toure, once again proving a more than capable deputy to Vincent Kompany, and the perennially-unflustered Matija Nastasic were rock solid, providing the firm foundation upon which we could build. James Milner’s role was vital, his energy enabling him to cover positions out wide and more centrally, thus allowing us to control the midfield, and David Silva was back to somewhere near his enthralling best.
Opposition View: With such talents going forward, Chelsea were an alarmingly limp outfit, seemingly content to sit back and play for the draw. Their only genuine threat was the pace of Eden Hazard, whose blistering bursts from a standing start occasionally troubled Pablo Zabaleta, but they were otherwise limited. They attempted to defend deep and limit the space and time in which City could work, but there were still gaps in their backline and when they did try to force the pace in the second half, it left them vulnerable in defence. They came for the point and got what their abject showing deserved.
As for the Blues from Manchester, this was a belated to the heights of which we know the players are capable. With Manchester United continuing to win, all City can do is hope to keep the pressure on and more performances like this will just about do that.