Monday night’s clash between Manchester City and Chelsea posed further questions regarding the destination of this season’s Premier League trophy. In a tactical master class from Jose Mourinho, Chelsea beat City thanks to a rocket of a strike from Branislav Ivanovic. City had won all of their previous 11 home league games, including a 4-1 win against Manchester United and a 6-0 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur.
Such is City’s attacking potency at home that this was the first time they had failed to find the net at the Etihad since November 2010. And it was by no means a lucky victory for Chelsea; despite some fine efforts from City – which forced Petr Cech to be on top of his game – this always looked like their match. In fact, the West London side should have won by more but were denied three times by the woodwork with Samuel Eto’o, Nemanja Matic and Gary Cahill all going close.
In the lead up to the game, Mourinho had insisted that Chelsea weren’t good enough to win the title and that City would be champions at the end of the season. The Portuguese stood by his comments at the end of the game too – insisting that he just wants the side to win matches. Manuel Pellegrini will rue the fact that midfield enforcer Fernandinho and star striker Sergio Agüero were both out injured, but that should not distract from Chelsea’s achievement.
Current league leaders Arsenal shipped six goals at the Etihad and were beaten comfortably despite scoring three of their own. And City’s dominant form has led to comparisons with the very best teams in world football. But despite Mourinho’s claims, this is a massive twist in the title race. A win for Pellegrini’s men would have seen them go top of the league – a point ahead of Arsenal and six clear of Chelsea. But this result leaves City second, with Arsenal two points clear and Chelsea only behind City on goal difference. With Arsenal still having to play the likes of City at home and Chelsea and Liverpool away from home, the title run-in favors the chasing pack.
Arsenal go to Liverpool this weekend in a game they have to win to stay top – with City facing Norwich and Chelsea hosting Newcastle at Stamford Bridge. The general expectation would be that City and Chelsea will get maximum points from those games, which means a defeat for Arsenal could leave them third.
Man City arguably still have the best chance of winning the title, with the credentials of their squad surely being the highest of all the top sides. But what looked a foregone conclusion on recent form is no longer that. The general feeling has been that City will win the title if they stay on form, but the Chelsea defeat has thrown a spanner in the works. The test now is to see how they respond, and if they can regain their form you would have to expect them to win the title. But Arsenal aren’t at the top through luck, and Chelsea will keep going for it like a well oiled machine.
This is now a battle between three very experienced managers – two of which have won the title in England before. If Arsenal and Arsene Wenger do manage to win their first title in 10 years, that would be arguably the biggest achievement. But a winning first season in the English game for Pellegrini would be just as good, while a winning return for the wily Mourinho would also be a fantastic feat. Whatever happens, the title race is going down to the wire and it isn’t going to be as easy for City as many people thought.