Chelsea struck a huge blow in the title race with a highly energetic, composed performance in beating Manchester City 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night.
The Blues were unfortunate not to win by a larger margin. After Ivanovic lashed the visitors in front from the edge of the area on 32 minutes, they hit the woodwork three times through Samuel Eto’o, Nemanja Matic and Gary Cahill.
City, in stark contrast, looked like a side that had forgotten they had scored four goals or more on 14 different occasions this season.
They badly missed Sergio Agüero and Fernandinho but their shortcomings were considerable and a jolting night has heavy consequences for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
Chelsea are now level on points, two behind Arsenal at the top, and the manner of the win left the clear sense that Mourinho’s team have the togetherness, ambition and manager to last the course.
Mourinho’s Tactics were faultless
Manuel Pellegrini has rightly been lauded for doing an excellent job in his debut season at City but he was outfoxed by his old sparring partner Jose Mourinho.
It will be hard to avoid the categorisation of this one as a ‘Mourinho masterclass’ because that is exactly what it was. Chelsea faced Manchester City eye-to-eye and came out on top.
This was not 19th century, defensive football hoping for the best, this was precise counter-attacking and diligent work in defence. It was well-deserved and it blows the title race wide open. City were below par and could not, until late, make things difficult for Petr Cech.
But they were made to be second-best by an excellent Chelsea who threatened time and again with the stupendous Hazard and the industrious Ramires, who shone brightly. But that takes nothing away from the rest of the Chelsea boys.
This was a win that carried the Mourinho trademark of meticulous planning and coaching brilliance that had Chelsea’s supporters once again singing the name of “The Special One”.
Fernandinho was sorely missed
Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho was missing through injury, and his absence saw City woefully outplayed in the engine room.
His replacement, Demichelis, was out of place for Ivanovic’s goal and generally had a very lacklustre performance in a sky blue shirt, offering his defence no shielding or protection.
The midfield contest was won, ultimately, by Matic and David Luiz and it was strange to hear Pellegrini say his team had deserved “at least” a draw.
Chelsea simply made the most of the fact that there were more of them in the middle third than there were City players, who suffered for the fact that they left two forwards up the pitch.
Fernandinho is the sort of player who you only really notice when he’s not there, and City found that out to their cost in the first half.
Chelsea have the best defence in the league
There wasn’t a clean sheet kept by the away side at the Etihad since November 2010 and City has been ruthless in front of goal this season putting six past Spurs and Arsenal and four past United when
they visited Etihad.
Mourinho’s masterplan was built on a solid defence, with Petr Cech not tested until the 73rd minute, clawing David Silva’s free kick away from goal. City only managed three shots on target (half as many as Chelsea managed), and save for some dangerous crosses into the six-yard box, were limited to shots from range.
In recent weeks, the back-line has begun to resemble the defence that dominated domestically during Mourinho’s first reign and they have conceded the least number of goals (20) in the division.
It was a typical Mourinho away performance where they were hard to break down and ultimately they came away with a very important three points in the title race.
The Title race is wide Open.
It was a result that means another turn in the title race, which seemed in City’s hands after a series of imperious victories that had seen them compared with the world’s finest teams.
Chelsea will get there by having a strong defence and nicking one goal leads to win them games whereas City are more likely to attack teams and win by three or four, as they have done for many games this season.
Arsenal, meanwhile, has had the lead for the longest and is looking the most consistent and stable of the trio.
Mourinho has been at pains to stress that this Chelsea team, remoulded and reimagined, is still in its infancy, still forging an identity, but even at this early stage they look a fearsome prospect.
It was the first time City have not scored on their own ground in 62 games stretching back to November 2010 and absolutely nobody believed Mourinho when he said his team had no chance of winning the league before nominating Arsenal as his favourites.