The Ped Report City 2-0 Chelsea
Rafa Benitez called it Chelsea's biggest match since their unceremonial exit from the Champions League. Win and his team would close the gap between themselves and City to one point, lose and the gap widens to seven giving Tottenham a chance of catching and indeed overtaking them.
Mancini fielded an unusual line-up. His goalkeeper had come under fire during the week and threatened with the bench if he made one more howler, the back four selected itself as probably the only four fit, and for once he played everyone in position, bringing Kolo back into the centre alongside Nastasic.
With Barry still allegedly injured, or at least his pride injured following his classy own-goal at Southampton, Mancini played Milner and Rodwell in alongside Garcia. Silva was to provide the magic and Yaya was pushed those extra vital yards further forward to support the lone ranger, Aguero.
Chelsea had Frank looking for his 200th goal, something that once upon a time was a "cert" for happening against City. Luis was pushed back alongside Cahill. Their midfield looked threatening with Mikel and Lampard providing the anchor, Mata and Hazard the thrust and Ramires was just Ramires. Ba got the solo job up top.
From the first whistle City went on to provide probably their most frustrating performance of the season. Not frustrating in terms of playing 97 minutes in QPR's penalty area and coming up empty, but frustrating in terms of not giving a credible title contender a sniff and controlling the match from start to finish, winning comfortably.
Silva was in irresistible form overshadowing his former Valencia colleague, Mata and outplaying anything that money-bags Hazard could put on the table. With Aguero's batteries on overcharge and Yaya in the ominous areas it was quite astonishing that City hadn't troubled the scorers by half time as chances from Nastasic, Rodwell and Aguero all failed to hit the target. In that time Chelsea, third in the title race and eyeing second place, didn't even trouble Joe Hart. Nastasic actually got a free header centre-stage from a corner but it was well saved by Cech.
When the second half came around City would continue to dominate and Chelsea would continue to absorb the pressure and look for a counter attack. And as City continued to be profligate with their chances and as Cahill must have needed pain killers for the number of times he blocked shots and passes any which way he could, Chelsea were trying to work out a way of upsetting the apple cart.
And Joe Hart presented them with that opportunity five minutes into the second half. Ba raced clear of Kolo chasing Ivanovic's long through ball. Hart raced out of his goal even though the direction of the ball was away from goal. He slid in expecting to have to block a shot but Ba tried to take it around him and accepted the invitation to leave a trailing leg against Hart as he hit the grass.
Mr Marriner pointed to the spot but didn't admonish Hart further with 47,000 expecting the cards to be dealt. Up stepped Frank, twelve yards away from his 200th goal. Frank has taken and scored penalties at the highest level, so putting Chelsea into the lead was a formality wasn't it?
He struck it well, tight into the bottom corner, but Hart flew like Superman to shovel it out and Kolo was more sprightly than the Chelsea runners and sent Hart from villain to hero.
And that was that for Chelsea. One shot from their favourite son, saved by England's number One.
It was time to get the match back to normal and City knocked and knocked at the door. Silva seemed to be involved in everything and Milner had the output of a Nuclear Power Station as he joined the attack at will and padded out the defence if there was any threat from Chelsea. Yaya was cranking up the engine and Mikel was starting to look troubled. Hazard and Mata looked non-exisitent.
A build up down the left between Silva and Tevez fed Yaya in a cul-de-sac. The big man actually danced past two statues formerly known as Chelsea defenders, dragged the ball back as if he was loading a cross-bow and then sent the arrow curling into the far corner beyond the outstretched hands of Cech. Relief teemed down from the stands. With what we'd seen from Chelsea it wasn't likely that they would equalise.
But they nearly did when Ramires got clear supported by Mata. It was a case of draw the last defender, Kolo and then slip the ball through for what would be a gift goal. But fair play to Kolo. Rather than take the bait, he stood his ground between the two attackers, leaving Ramires to make a decision. And whilst he was busy making the wrong one cover was reinstated and it all went away much to the frustration of the Shed-heads behind the goal.
City needed more inspiration and Tevez, who had replaced the effervescent Rodwell was to provide it. Silva and Aguero were involved in the edge of the box interchanges, cutting the ball back to Tevez stationed thirty yards from goal. His delightful shot left Cech for dead and almost bulged the net back as far as the LED boards. Total quality and precisely what had been missing from his game lately. His relief valve exploded as the fans started to believe...again!
Chelsea offered nothing further and City closed out the match comfortably leaving us all in the land of "might have beens". Why couldn't we beat them at their place? Why have we dropped points against everyone around us and worse still against teams who shouldn't have a look-in?
Those will be the frustrations and legacy of this season.
The team played well as a whole. Hart atoning for a poor decision with an out-of-this-world save, the backline looking solid even in the absence of Kompany and with Kolo having probably his best ever game for City. Nastasic looked unflustered and class. Clichy got messy at times but Captain Zaba led his team as only he can.
Milner was exceptional taking over Barry's duties but adding a lot more. Garcia got the "dirty work" and Rodwell started to show why he was bought, looking a threat each time he joined the attack. He could have had a hat trick on another day.
Yaya was in terrifying mood as he promised, but in his interview said his goal was a goal but not a great one. The 47,000 will disagree (give or take the Chelsea fans in that number). Aguero showed all his guile, defiance and elusiveness and was desperately unlucky not to add to the score. Other than that his all-round football was terrific to watch. They say he doesn't like being the lone striker, preferring to interchange with Tevez, but don't you believe it, he was astonishing. And as for "El Magico". With the great pretenders of Hazard and Mata, don't forget he is a player that I like, in the opposition's lines, Silva simply showed them how it is done. The range of his passing was fantastic and he was a key feature in both goals.
Is it a case of too little too late? I fear we have to say so, but City need to plug away and gather points and see where the season takes them. Wembley is on the horizon and as it is probably the only hope of silverware this season, maybe the players should be operating at levels that ensure they get a game should that come around.
Mancini will be glad to see off the ghost of other managers for another week despite him blowing a gasket at the thought of Pellegrini being lined up for work.
all times East Manchester
Mo 04Mar 20h00 Aston Villa, Villa Park, PL
Sa 09Mar 17h30 Barnsley, The Etihad, FACQF
Sa 16Mar 12h45 Everton, Goodison Park, PL
Sa 30Mar 15h00 Newcastle, The Etihad, PL
Mo 08Apr 20h00 The Rags, The Swamp, PL
Mo 15 Apr 20h00 West Brom, The Etihad, PL
Su 21 Apr 13h30 Spurs, White Hart Lane, PL
Sa 27 Apr 12h45 West Ham United, The Etihad, PL
Sa 04 May 15h00 Swansea, The Liberty Stadium, PL
Su 12 May 15h00 Reading, The Madejski Stadium, PL
Su 19 May 16h00 Norwich City, The Etihad, PL
City vs Wigan To Be Rearranged