City’s winning home streak came to an end in a cracker of a contest.
The Blues who had scored in 61 consecutive Premier League games at the Etihad just couldn’t find a way through a superb Chelsea defence.
And the visitors nicked the three points and put themselves slap bang in the middle of the three-way title race thanks to Branislav Ivanovic’s 32nd minute drive.
These two sides are now separated by goal difference two points behind Arsenal.
This was 21st century football at its best. A defeat not a disaster and the embodiment of what makes the Premier League so popular all over the world
...City 0 Chelsea 1...
At least as many people tuned into this football match as the one in New York last night where they crowned Seattle Seahawks the Super Bowl champions.
No titles were handed out on a windy night at the Etihad in East Manchester, there were no horses or hawks on the pitch, no Sopranos belting out the National Anthem (thought there was a rendition of Blue Moon) and no half-time show containing a multitude of award winning rock and pop artists.
This game sold itself. A meeting of two soccer tribes who provoke argument and Press column inches in equal measure; a meeting of two managers with a history in Spain and now in England; a meeting of two different but successful philosophies.
This was a game that Chelsea couldn’t afford to lose; to do so would be to drop six points behind the Manchester Blues. It was a game that would not lead to medals being handed out but to a more tightly-packed order at the Premier League summit.
Both teams were without established names. Fernando Torres was out for Chelsea more damagingly the home side, with their unblemished home record to defend, were without South American firecrackers Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero and the bang in form French ace Samir Nasri. Injury claimed all three.
Manuel Pellegrini’s solution was to move Martin Demichelis into midfield and draft Matija Nastasic into the back four. A ploy not unknown to his opposite number Jose Mourinho who similarly deployed David Luiz, a central defender by trade, in his own engine room.
The atmosphere on and off the pitch crackled and coruscated from the first shrill blast of Mike Dean’s whistle. This was football in the raw, stripped bare and fuelled by adrenaline pumped through partisan veins. There was no hiding place for anyone. It was a time to puff out the chest and expand the lungs to bursting point.
Cagey but combative to start, it was City who made the early running. Aleks Kolarov fizzed a centre across Petr Cech’s goal, Yaya Toure brushed the bar with a first time shot from the edge of the box and then David Silva misconnected with a Toure pass and guided the ball wide from half a dozen yards.
How the City fans loved it, declaring their contempt for Mourinho’s style of football though to be fair the Londoners contributed fully to the opening quarter Eden Hazard and Willian were both lively and Samuel Eto’o used all his experience to take up some threatening positions.
Ramires had the second best chance of the opening half hour as Chelsea broke four versus one but Joe Hart worked out his angles carefully and pulled off a fine diving save.
He could do little about the goal that separated the sides at half time though – a low, driven effort from Ivanovic that flew through a pack and into the bottom corner. It wasn’t great defending from the home side that had chances to clear.
And City were grateful not to be two down at the break after Eto’o grazed the bar from a decent angle. ‘Are you West Ham in disguise?’ taunted the visiting fans as Chelsea ended an entertaining half a goal to the good.
The opening phases of the second half also belonged to a Chelsea side at the top of its game. They strangled City in the second third of the pitch and hit hard and fast on the break. All the time John Terry and his back four stood steadfast and unyielding.
Chelsea hit the post through Gary Cahill and City responded purposefully down the right where and Jesus Navas and Pablo Zabaleta combined to present a chance for substitute Stevan Jovetic that was spurned.
As the match ebbed and flowed Silva brought out the best of Cech with a 72nd minute free kick and then went agonisingly close to a leveller from Kolarov’s low pull back.
City ended the game as they had started it, on top, but Cech again saved well from Jovetic and then Nastasic missed kicked in what was the final act of a compelling battle.