The title defense isn't done just yet. Thanks to Manchester City, though, another race just heated up.
Manchester City defeated Chelsea 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday to remain 12 points behind English Premier League leaders Manchester United. But while the defending champions remain just barely alive in the title race, the real excitement is shaping up directly below them in the table.
Defeat left Chelsea seven points behind City for second place—and, perhaps more importantly, only one ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham.
Spurs visit West Ham on Monday knowing that victory will catapult them into third place ahead of Chelsea. And that's not the only worry for the Blues.
Not so fast, though, says City's under-fire manager Roberto Mancini:
"We can't think that it's finished with 11 games to go. It's not my mentality or my players' mentality," said Man City boss Roberto Mancini.— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 24, 2013
It's an admirable sentiment, even if it's probably equal parts rah-rah puffery and obligatory platitude. After all, what else would Mancini say?
In fairness, City deserved their win, even if the result turned on Chelsea's own failure. The visitors had the chance to go ahead in the 52nd minute, but Joe Hart saved Frank Lampard's penalty low and to his right.
Barely 10 minutes later, City were ahead—and probably out of Chelsea's sight for the rest of the season.
Yaya Toure remained calm in the box as he collected David Silva's pulled-back pass. Then the big Ivorian showed that wonderfully surprising touch of his and curled an unstoppable right-footed shot into the side netting at the far post.
Carlos Tevez rifled in City's second five minutes from time, putting to rest any thoughts of a comeback and ensuring there would be no consequences for City's wasteful finishing from the first half. And so, with a couple moments of real quality, City saw off Chelsea and all but guaranteed that the English Premier League's top two will be an all-Mancunian affair again this season.
"It was sometimes tough but two bits of quality won us the game," said Hart (via BBC Sport), who kept his 12th clean sheet of the season, most in the league.
The result probably did little to lessen the likelihood that United will claim their 20th league title. But with Chelsea losing for the second time in four matches, the race for third and fourth has taken a turn for the compelling.
Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez: "We were not winning the second balls or comfortable in possession. But we have to carry on until the end."— Premier League (@premierleague) February 24, 2013
Chelsea's problems are more complex than that, of course, and on Sunday one of them had to do with Benitez's curious second-half substitutions. Whether or not Chelsea recover, the mood is souring at Stamford Bridge and Benitez's tenure looks increasingly like a brief one.
For Chelsea and their fans, that makes for plenty of anxiety as the stretch run beckons. A top-four finish is obviously still possible, but as of Sunday it's far from certain.